Updated February 8, 2024 at 3:12 p.m
Vacuum vessel of a jet fusion plant: A jet fusion plant in Great Britain has set a new world record for energy production.
© German Press Agency / Okaya / German Press Agency
A European research team has announced a world record in power generation using nuclear fusion. However, it will be a long time before this technology is used.
The European nuclear fusion plant “JET” has achieved a world record for energy production. The Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics (IPP) in Garching near Munich announced on Thursday that the joint European Taurus (“JET”) plant in Great Britain produced 69 megajoules of energy from 0.2 milligrams of fuel. This is the largest amount of energy ever achieved in a fusion experiment. “It would have required about two kilograms of coal to produce the same amount of energy – about ten million times,” wrote IPP, which is involved in the project.
But even with this record, there was no positive energy balance. Athena Kabato of the Independent Energy Program said the energy put in was three times what was taken out. In addition to Germany and Great Britain, several other European countries are involved in the jet fusion plant. The goal is to gain fundamental insights into the construction of fusion power plants.
Simple principle – complex implementation
The principle is simple: just like in the sun, hydrogen atoms fuse to form helium when exposed to high heat. Energy from the Sun provides the Earth with light and heat. A fusion power plant will also provide energy one day. It is not possible for devastating accidents such as those that occur in nuclear power plants, where atoms are split. If a malfunction occurs in the fusion systems, the temperature drops and the reaction stops.
In practice, energy production is complex: it depends on hydrogen atoms of different weights, called hydrogen isotopes. In “jetting” the hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium are heated into a very hot plasma. The components of atoms, the positively charged nuclei and negatively charged electrons, separate from each other. Because of the charges, the plasma can be kept suspended in a ring-shaped reactor by an extremely strong magnetic field. This is important so that it does not come into contact with the walls of the vessel and cool down. The temperature at the center of the plasma can reach about 150 million degrees.
Extremely high temperatures are necessary so that two positively charged atomic nuclei have enough energy to overcome their repulsion and fuse. During fusion, neutral particles (neutrons) are released that contain a lot of energy. The purpose is to heat water in a fusion power plant so that the steam can drive turbines – producing electricity as in many other power plants.
“In fact, ‘energy gain’ is not physically possible with Jet and all other current magnetic fusion experiments around the world,” IPP wrote. “For these fusion systems to have a positive energy balance, they must exceed a certain size.” This is only the case with the ITER (International Experimental Thermonuclear Reactor) station in southern France, which is currently under construction. Participating countries include China, the European Union, Russia and the United States.
You can find more news on our WhatsApp channel. Click Subscribe so you don't miss any updates.
The recording experiment was never planned
The world record was achieved on Jet on October 3, 2023. Thus, Jet surpassed its own record of 59 megajoules set in 2021. Capato explained that the current record was a byproduct and was not planned. It was about answering different questions that were important to 'Iter'.
According to IPP, the recording experiment was one of the last in “Jet”. After four decades, operations ended at the end of 2023. “But the researchers’ work continues,” Capato said. The wealth of data collected by Jet will keep them busy for years to come. In addition, we are now investigating how the plasma interacts with the inner wall material.
Iter will also become a research facility. According to Capato, nuclear fusion is far from being a solution to current energy problems. She added: “But we know what the obstacles are. They can be solved. Nuclear fusion is not an unsolvable problem.”
“The idea is that within decades we will have a pilot power plant that shows how electricity can be produced and fed into the grid,” Capato said. “This will produce usable electricity, but may not yet reach the production that an entire city needs.” Once this is successful, private companies are expected to plan and build larger plants “which can then produce quantities similar to today's power plants.”
At the end of 2022, American researchers announced that they had obtained energy using lasers in a fusion facility: In the experiment conducted at the National Ignition Facility (NEF) in California – as is usual in research – it was only the energy balance in the plasma itself. Grant. This does not take into account the amount of current flowing to the laser. According to information at the time, the US facility needed about 300 megajoules of energy to deliver 2 megajoules of laser energy, which produced three megajoules of fusion output. (Simon Hommel, DPA/General Staff)
Nuclear fusion is seen as a promising hope for meeting humanity's ever-increasing energy needs. Scientists have now made significant progress in fusion research.
“This is how the editorial team works“It tells you when and what we report, how we handle errors, and where our content comes from. When reporting, we adhere to the Journalism Trust Initiative guidelines.
Lifelong foodaholic. Professional twitter expert. Organizer. Award-winning internet geek. Coffee advocate.