Three years later, researchers in the United States succeeded in boosting a superconducting electromagnet to a field strength of twenty Tesla. This super strong magnet is necessary to build a nuclear fusion power plant.
In the search for completely clean energy generation, nuclear fusion is the ultimate promise.
However, one obstacle was the inability to operate a superconducting magnet at a relatively high temperature, so that more energy is put out than what is put into it. They announced Wednesday that researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), near Boston, and Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS) have now overcome that hurdle.
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Extremely high temperatures
The fuel used to generate fusion energy comes from water. The amount of potential energy available is enormous: After all, water is available everywhere and at all times, MIT’s Maria Zuber says in a press release. “We just need to know how we can use that in the best way.”
In nuclear fusion, two atoms fuse to form a larger atom. This releases huge amounts of energy. But it’s like putting the sun in a bottle: the temperatures needed to achieve nuclear fusion are so high that almost any substance imaginable will melt instantly.
So magnetic fields are used to keep this hot plasma in check. As a rule, a tokamak, a donut-shaped reactor, is used for this magnetic containment.
The startup CFS is also working on the tokamak with help from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. However, thanks to a new superconducting material, they can now achieve a stronger magnetic field in a smaller device. If they want to achieve the same result using conventional technology, the magnet must be forty times larger.
This material that makes up the magnet is already superconducting at -253.15 degrees Celsius. ITER, a nuclear fusion power plant under construction in France, uses superconducting materials at -267 degrees Celsius. So the Americans expect that their invention will be more capable of holding plasma, so that a small and cheaper reactor will suffice for the same result.
Now that the researchers have been able to build a relatively small working magnet, they are moving on to develop a full demonstration model, the Sparc. They hope to complete it by 2025. The next step is to build ARC, a pressurized nuclear fusion reactor that should be about half the size of ITER in France.
“Nuclear fusion is a huge scientific and technological challenge,” said Dennis White, who is developing SPARC as director of the Center for Fusion and Plasma Science at MIT. But once you succeed, we’ll have ‘Inexhaustible, CO2– A free source of energy is available that you can use anywhere and anytime.
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