Massachusetts (USA) MIT is reporting in a press release that a large-bore, high-temperature superconducting magnet designed and constructed by Commonwealth Fusion Systems and MIT’s plasma science and fusion center (PSFC) has produced a record-breaking 20 Tesla (the unit that measures a magnet’s strength) magnetic field. This generated field is currently the strongest fusion magnet on earth and a major advance toward practical fusion, which many experts predict could one day provide the world with almost limitless energy. The commercial availability of a new ribbon-like material allowed the team to create a magnetic field within a facility much smaller in size then they would have needed, if they had been using conventional magnets.
“Fusion in a lot of ways is the ultimate clean energy source,” says Maria Zuber, MIT’s vice president for research. “The amount of power that is available is really game-changing. The fuel used to create fusion energy comes from water, and the Earth is full of water. It’s a nearly unlimited resource. We just have to figure out how to utilize it.”
The sun is powered by a reaction called nuclear fusion. If this process could be replicated on earth, it would provide humanity with virtually limitless clean, safe and cheap energy. However this process requires great temperatures far beyond what any solid material we currently know could withstand. To capture the sun’s power on this planet, scientists need to find a way of capturing and containing plasma as hot as 100,000,000 degrees or more and prevent it from coming into contact with any solid material. This is done by using very strong magnetic fields.
Developing this powerful magnet is considered the greatest technological hurdle to build a working nuclear fusion reactor. It now makes it possible to demonstrate fusion in a lab on Earth, which has been worked on for decades by many countries with only small progress. With this new magnet technology, researchers are coming close to build the world’s first fusion device which can create and confine plasma that produces more energy than it actually consumes. The device that should demonstrate this is called SPARC and is scheduled to be completed in 2025.
“The challenges of making fusion happen are both technical and scientific (…) It’s an inexhaustible, carbon-free source of energy that you can deploy anywhere and at any time. It’s really a fundamentally new energy source.” says Dennis Whyte, director of MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center.