(WHNT) — Federal officials said the breakthrough last week with nuclear fusion energy is one of the most impressive scientific feats of the 21st century.

U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm reported the achievement Tuesday saying, “Scientists at the National Ignition Facility achieved fusion ignition and that is creating more energy from fusion reactions than the energy used to start the process.”

The work at the Lawrence Livermore Lab involved 192 lasers in a building the size of three football fields. It holds the promise of clean, abundant energy.

“It is the first time it has ever been done in a laboratory anywhere in the world,” Granholm continued.

News 19 spoke with Dr. Jason Cassibry, a professor in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH). He is also affiliated with UAH’s Propulsion Research Center. He expertise is in fusion for both terrestrial power and propulsion. He’s been working in fusion for 20 years. There is fusion work going on at UAH related to propulsion and other systems work that is a cousin to the work in California.

“It is a huge milestone in fusion,” he said. “We’re all energized by the outcome. It just helps buy down the risk that the public justifiably has in investing in this technology. We’ve been doing this since 1958 and people have reasonably asked, ‘When are we going to get a return on this investment?’

“I would say the hard part and psychological barrier that was there, has been lifted. Yes, we can do it. Now we just need to make it better, more practical and explore ways to utilize that energy to convert it to electricity for power.”

The idea is to create energy gain.

“If you want to build a reactor for fusion in which you produce electricity for the grid or if you want to have a propulsion system, you need the energy released to be greater than the energy invested,” Cassibry said.

He described the successful experiment that took place last week.

“They would suspend a little ball out in free space and they hit it with 192 lasers and the reason they want to do that is because they want to understand the processes of a burning plasma and demonstrate the ability to exceed the energy that’s been deposited into the sphere, by fusion reactions, and that’s been achieved.

“And that’s what their big milestone is, and that’s what we’re celebrating today.”

Cassibry said there are many benefits that can come from fusion, but three stand out for him.

“If we can learn to use deuterium from the world’s water supply, it provides a virtually inexhaustible amount of fuel for producing electricity,” Cassibry said. With fusion, we have thousands of years of deuterium fuel available for powering the grid.

It could fuel the future of space travel, opening up the solar system, he said.

“As we advance beyond Artemis to human exploration to Mars and beyond we need advanced propulsion to get humans to destinations much more quickly and fusion would be one of those technologies that would cut that trip time down by a factor of three,” he explained.

It could also democratize countries’ access to energy given that the deuterium isotope in hydrogen is widely available in water.

“I think the most important one, if you look at some of the terrible things going on in the world, and how vulnerable supply chains are to nations that invade other nations and cause major disruptions in that supply chain, deuterium and fusion, for example, somewhat democratizes the production of power because there is deuterium everywhere.”

“It’s not in certain mines in certain countries, it’s everywhere, so from that standpoint the fuel is abundantly available, wherever there is water,” Cassibry concluded. “It would greatly help even out the playing field and give everybody a shot at abundant clean energy.”

Cassibry also spoke about the fusion work ahead and the growth in private funding.

“From the perspective of the group that’s doing this research, they will continue to explore different target designs. Just because they achieved it doesn’t mean they stop, they want to make this better. So, from that perspective over the next few years, I would look for that group to continue to just make more progress.

“The broader community has experienced an enormous amount of growth over the last couple of years from private investment,” he said. “It went from thousands to a few millions of dollars in private investment to over $1 billion in 2021, and that’s expected to be exceeded again this year.”

Secretary Granholm said the Biden Administration has a goal of establishing commercial fusion within a decade, The Hill reported. But Livermore Lab officials at today’s announcement suggested it could take decades for commercial fusion.