SEP 22, 2021 5:00 PM PDT

Commercial Fusion Energy Could be Within Reach, Thanks to the World's Most Powerful Magnet

WRITTEN BY: Hannah Daniel

Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS) announced this month that their new magnet might be the breakthrough needed to make fusion energy commercially viable. In collaboration with MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC), researchers at CFS announced that their test of the new High-Temperature Superconductor (HTS) was a success.

Nuclear fusion is the process by which two atomic nuclei fuse to form one new nucleus with an excess of neutrons and protons. This can be done with more than two nucelli, with more than a single product. The difference between the masses of the reactants and the products is energy, which researchers are trying to extract for commercial use.

You may have heard of fusion before— it’s the process that drives the sun’s energy. The fuel that researchers use to power man-made fusion reactors is derived from deuterium and lithium, which is derived from seawater, another renewable resource. Being able to harness the energy of nuclear fusion would mean that humanity could have a clean, limitless resource of energy available to use in our everyday lives.

The current machines available for nuclear fusion reactors are called tokamaks. In these reactors, most of the energy is produced in the form of neutrons, which heat a “blanket” surrounding the fusion reactor. In a generator, that heat would be used to drive a turbine which would produce the energy, but 20% of the heat produced stays inside the fused plasma itself, which needs to be taken off somehow. Think of the sun and how much heat it gives off. Before we can harness fusion energy commercially, we have to fix this problem.

We don’t currently have materials that can withstand the heat inside a fusion device, so scientists circumvent this by using magnets that hold the plasma in place and prevent it from touching any part of the reactor.  While these devices sound perfect in theory, researchers have not created any apparatus that can produce a net positive amount of energy in practice. Right now, it takes far more power to run the giant tokamaks than they actually produce. No fusion device has made positive net energy from fusion, but the tokamaks are the closest.

Normally, tokamaks use low temp superconductors to make substantial magnetic fields that create energy. (If you want to read more about how superconductors work, you can check out this previous article I wrote.) that’s where CFS’s new invention comes in— the HTS will allow tokamaks to be smaller, create more energy, and thus create a greater positive net energy.

The data from these HTS magnets are promising, and CFS has set its sights on nuclear fusion plants. They expect to see net energy gain from fusion by 2025 from a tokamak called SPARC. If SPARC succeeds, it’ll pave the way for a new power plant called ARC, which stands for affordable, robust, compact, and will serve as the world’s first commercially available fusion energy plant. Fusion energy may be closer than we think.

Sources: MIT, CFS

About the Author
  • Hannah Daniel (she/they) is a recent graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, where she received a Bachelor of Science in Biology with an additional a minor in Creative Writing. She is currently located in the Washington D.C. area pursuing freelance writing opportunities and full-time science communications positions. In her free time, Hannah likes to watch science fiction movies and interrogate the truthfulness of their claims.
You May Also Like
JUN 22, 2021
Space & Astronomy
An Unusual Galaxy Without Dark Matter
JUN 22, 2021
An Unusual Galaxy Without Dark Matter
Even though we still cannot detect dark matter, many researchers are confident that exists. It seems to act as a kind of ...
JUL 16, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Oceans Experience Heatwaves Too
JUL 16, 2021
Oceans Experience Heatwaves Too
With climate change affecting our air temperatures, we also see an impact on our world's oceans.
AUG 03, 2021
Neuroscience
A Tree Falls in the Forest: A Neuroscientist on the World Our Brain Creates
AUG 03, 2021
A Tree Falls in the Forest: A Neuroscientist on the World Our Brain Creates
Neuroscientist, Donald Hoffman, thinks a mathematical model will solve the hard problem of consciousness
AUG 06, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Your Coffee Could be Harming the Oceans
AUG 06, 2021
Your Coffee Could be Harming the Oceans
Caffeine is one of the most widely consumed psychoactive drugs in the world. Approximately sixty plant species produce c ...
SEP 01, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
New Study Suggests One-third of Binary Stars Have Engulfed Their Planets
SEP 01, 2021
New Study Suggests One-third of Binary Stars Have Engulfed Their Planets
While our solar system is relatively calm and inert, some sun-like stars out there will literally eat the planets in the ...
SEP 06, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
NASA's James Webb Space Telescope is Ready for Space!
SEP 06, 2021
NASA's James Webb Space Telescope is Ready for Space!
With a long set of rigorous tests behind it, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), NASA’s next major space telesc ...
Loading Comments...