The ability to successfully harness fusion power, the energy source of the stars, would change the future of the entire world. Tremendous amounts of energy are formed when lighter atoms, such as hydrogen, smash together to form heavier ones. This energy release takes place at temperatures of hundreds of millions of degrees, which would cause it to melt every material we currently have available to us on earth. In an effort to harness fusion power, researchers use magnetic fields to keep it away from the walls of any chamber in which it is being produced. These efforts have all resulted in more energy being expended, than being harvested, for our use.
MIT has collaborated with a new company, Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS), in the hopes of bringing the world’s first successful fusion power plant to working order within the next 15 years. The collaboration is using a unique form of production, called SPARC, which will build smaller, more powerful field magnets using new high-temperature superconductors. The material that will be used in their creation has recently been introduced to the market, and will result in the magnets being four times stronger than any previously used in fusion experiments. Development time for these has been estimated to be within the next three years.
These superconducting electromagnets are the key component towards creating a more compact version of a fusion device, known as a tokamak. This will result in more than tenfold the amount of power the tokamak will produce. The magnets would also make it possible to build smaller plants to achieve the required amount of energy. SPARC is expected to produce, in 10 second pulses, as much power as is used by a small city. The success of the magnets would result in fusion power being used as an alternative energy source, helping to decrease climate change due to its lack of emissions.
MIT and CFS plan to carry out rapid research, which would lead to the formation of these new plants. CFS has already attracted a $50 million investment from Italian energy company, Eni, and continues to seek further investments. The collaboration’s ultimate goal is to establish a new industry by commercializing fusion power. Eni CEO, Claudio Descalzi, pointed out that fusion is the energy source of the future as it is completely sustainable, does not release emissions or long term waste, and is potentially inexhaustible. After SPARC has proven successful, the collaboration will begin its final construction of a new power plant approximately twice the size of SPARC’s diameter. The plant would be the first true fusion power plant in the world, and would have the ability to produce a capacity of 200 MW of electricity.