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The Greatest Technological Hurdle to Making Nuclear Fusion Possible – the Magnet – Just Powered Up

Gretchen Ertl, MIT

The superconducting magnets that could be the key to powering an efficient nuclear fusion reactor have just been turned on in the laboratories of a US company.

Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS_ generated a 20 tesla electric field, the most powerful ever created on Earth; 50,000 times stronger than the magnetosphere) for five hours.

This gave CFS scientists the confidence to say that a working prototype of their fusion reactor could be ready by 2025; a great leap forward from a role of government which had an arrival time of 2040.

Nuclear fusion is perhaps the world’s most dynamic engineering challenge, and magnets are one method by which humans can make it work. With them, CFS believes that the reactors of the future could be small and dramatically cheaper than the billions of Western governments. currently spending in fusion projects.

The goal of any reactor is to create a plasma, the fourth state of matter, which is essentially superheated gas. The heavy isotopes within a hydrogen atom, deuterium and tritium, are heated inside the reactor to hundreds of millions of degrees until they turn into helium. The energy they emit is converted into electricity.

If such a powerful machine can produce more electricity than it uses, unlimited clean energy can be achieved, which means that no matter whether the sun is shining or the wind is blowing, it means that coal, oil and gas can stay in the inside. on the ground, that there would never be a war over oil resources again, and that global climate change could be reduced rapidly.

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In fact, the CFS research and development team boast that its reactor will be able to convert a glass of water into the electricity consumption of a human being throughout his life.

But how

Superconducting magnets make it much easier to achieve these extreme temperatures. 18 of the CFS magnets will be positioned as a large metal donut to create pressures in the fusion chamber, known as a tokamak, up to twice as high as at the deepest point in the ocean. This immense compression causes the immense heat necessary for fusion to occur.

“Three years ago we announced a plan to build a 20 tesla magnet, which is what we will need for future fusion machines,” says Bob Mumgaard, CFO of CFS, in a story for the MIT University Press.

“We now have a platform that is scientifically very advanced, due to decades of research on these machines, and also very commercially interesting. What it does is allow us to build devices faster, smaller and at a lower cost. “

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The magnets are wrapped with 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of superconducting tape made of barium oxide and copper.

This tape has taken decades to develop, and when cooled to -253 ° C, which a house-sized refrigerator used to carry, removes all natural barriers to superconductivity and can easily handle almost all 40,000 amps that go through. tokamak at any time and very efficiently.

All of this work, and the successful testing, means that CFS can go to work on its SPARC, a kind of miniature version of a large-scale nuclear fusion plant. The facility to house the SPARC is already under construction.

(LOOK the MIT video on the magnet and how it works below).

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