US scientists have repeated the landmark feat of achieving net energy gain from a nuclear fusion reaction, moving the world closer to what has been hailed as a source of near-limitless clean energy.

A team at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California has for a second time managed to use lasers to fuse together two atoms, the same process that generates the light and heat from stars.

Crucially, they achieved what is known as fusion ignition – the point at which a fusion reaction becomes self-sustaining instead of requiring a constant input of energy.

The team first achieved fusion ignition, hailed as a “holy grail” for clean energy, in December. This time they have reportedly managed to get a higher energy output, although the results are still being analysed.

Earlier this year, California-based TAE Technologies and Japan’s National Institute for Fusion Science claimed success testing an innovative nuclear fusion technology that uses no radioactive materials and is calculated capable of “powering the planet for more than 100,000 years”.

The fusion sector has been notable for attracting the backing of billionaires such as Bill Gates. Microsoft, the tech giant he founded, is first in line to buy electricity from a US-based company that claims it can get a commercial-scale fusion power plant up and running within five years.

Blue Laser Fusion, a company founded by Nobel prizewinner Shuji Nakamura, recently secured funding to advance its proprietary laser-based fusion technology to build a commercial-ready reactor by 2030, with eventual plans for a 1GW system.

Fossil fuel giants such as Eni, Shell and Equinor are meanwhile also backing fusion technology pioneers.

However, despite excitement around the industry, the Fusion Industry Association recently warned that investment growth in the sector shrank by half last year, and new sources of capital are needed to bridge a funding “valley of death”.