People have always looked forward to the day when clean and practically exhaustible energy comes upon humanity. Thanks to the advances in magnet technology, it may not take a decade before we enjoy this wonderful breakthrough. Scientists at MIT have designed a cheaper, more compact and highly efficient fusion reactor that can be used commercially. Using a rare-earth REBCO, which are barium copper oxide superconducting tapes, they produced high-magnetic field coils.
How do these magnets work?
Aside from the sun being the natural fusion reactor, we need fusion energy to avoid catastrophic global warming. Fusion reactors generate electricity by using the same physical process of mushing two atoms together to create heavier elements. Just like the sun, they generate a state of matter like electrically-charged gas – very hot plasma. Stronger magnets and magnetic fields allow the plasma to be contained in a smaller space. This reduces the materials, space and time necessary to build a reactor, resulting to more affordable reactor.
The new reactor is built to produce significant amounts of power. The much higher magnetic field also increases performance. Using hydrogen fusion to produce helium, the reactor releases energy. To release more energy, the plasma needs to be heated to hotter temperatures. The new magnets trap the heated particles in the center of a donut-shaped geometry called tokamak. Basically, the magnets increase power.
How much power do they produce?
The new magnets are strong enough to increase the power of generation ten times over the previous technology, improving the standard design of the reactor. Currently, the most powerful planned fusion reactor in the world is called ITER. The huge device is under construction in France and is expected to cost around $40 billion. On the other hand, the new design would produce the same power with half the size, a fraction of the cost and faster construction.
The proposed reactor, called ARC, is based on the same physics as ITER despite their difference in size and strength of magnetic field. It is also planned to include a method to remove the core without dismantling the entire device, enabling future improvements in performance. The new magnets would also enable the reactor to consistently produce a steady power output, unlike other reactors that can only operate for a few seconds at a time.
Is that all of the good news?
There is another key breakthrough that the design brings. It replaces the solid materials that cover the fusion chamber with liquid. This means that cover can be easily circulated and replaced, cutting replacement costs. The research was even supported by U.S. Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.
The reactor could produce three times the electricity needed to keep the reaction going. It could even be enhanced to produce up to six times that power, making ARC as a major breakthrough in fusion technology. It should be able to produce electricity for 100,000 people. If this breakthrough shows progress, it would be the most important electricity source in the 22nd century. It could power your house, your cars and even the entire cities.