The Sun produces more energy than anything else in our Solar System, and it does so through a process dubbed nuclear fusion, during which two atomic nuclei of one kind combine together to form a different kind of atomic nuclei.
Image Credit: NASA
Our Sun uses its supply of hydrogen gas at its core to carry out nuclear fusion. The hydrogen nuclei are compressed so much that they eventually combine and become helium. Nuclei continue to combine until the point of creating iron, which doesn’t feed nuclear fusion efficiently enough to produce energy as hydrogen and the lighter elements do.
The production of energy through nuclear fusion is something mankind has been trying to reproduce on Earth for decades, but hasn’t been truly successful at. While we appear to be able to produce nuclear fusion for short periods of time, we can’t seem to sustain it for long periods of time. This is the real challenge.
Nuclear fusion produces energy both cleanly and efficiently, and if we could harness it, we would be able to power our cities sustainably without the harmful effects on the environment that current methods, like nuclear fission, do. While that’s the main goal, the road to get there has been nothing short of difficult.
On the other hand, the Tokamak ST40 fusion reactor in the United Kingdom hopes to drive mankind to the next era by being the most successful fusion reactor ever created to date.
Image Credit: Tokamak Energy
Tokamak, the company behind ST40, was reportedly able to produce its first plasma with the reactor and the firm is feeling pretty good about their design and achievements; so much so that they think they can achieve efficient fusion power in years rather than decades. The current estimate is being put around 2025-2030.
Image Credit: Tokamak Energy
"We are unveiling the first world-class controlled fusion device to have been designed, built and operated by a private venture. The ST40 is a machine that will show fusion temperatures - 100 million degrees - are possible in compact, cost-effective reactors. This will allow fusion power to be achieved in years, not decades."
By using incredibly strong magnetic coils, the goal is to control plasma for long periods of time under extreme pressures and heat, just like the Sun does. By the end of 2017, Tokamak hopes to produce temperatures of 27 million degrees Fahrenheit with ST40. Then, by 2018, they want to step things up 180 million degrees Fahrenheit.
While ST40 hasn’t reached these insane temperatures just yet, if it can, then we might finally be able to harness the power of nuclear fusion here on Earth and utilize it to our advantage.
One thing Tokamak is doing differently from other attempts in the past is they’re taking baby steps towards the final goal, which reduces costs and helps the firm to perfect simple processes on the road to nuclear fusion, one at a time.
It should be super interesting to see whether or not the venture will be successful since nuclear fusion has the means to completely change the world. There’s certainly still a long road ahead of us before it becomes a mainstream source of power on Earth, but the future looks bright so far.