MIT Researchers Build Powerful Superconducting Magnet That Can Lead to Clean Fusion Energy

A team of physicists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) recently achieved a feat that could pave the way for real carbon-free energy. The achievement is three years of implementation. It is the result of intensive research and design work, the project leaders said. For the first time, researchers have built a large high-temperature superconducting electromagnet that can reach a field strength of 20 tesla – the strongest magnetic field ever created. This has removed an important obstacle to clean fusion energy generation, making it possible to build a fusion power plant that can generate more energy than it consumes.

Fusion energy, which powers the Sun, involves two small atoms joining together to form a larger atom. No solid material can withstand the temperature required for it. So what’s needed is a way to capture and contain something as hot as the Sun’s energy source by suspending it in a way that doesn’t come into contact with anything solid. Powerful electromagnetic fields like those created by the MIT researchers can do the job, according to the researchers.

These electromagnets could enable simpler, more compact fusion reactors to be built. Project leaders at MIT and start-up Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS) say the technology could lead to the construction of inexpensive and carbon-free power plants, a key factor in limiting impacts of climate change.

Maria Zuber, MIT’s vice president of research, says fusion is in many ways the ultimate clean energy source. The fuel for fusion power comes from water – a nearly limitless resource. Also, the amount of energy available “really changes the game.”

Laboratory fusion has long been pursued by some researchers with limited success. The development of new magnets is one of the biggest obstacles. Now that the technology has been successfully demonstrated, the MIT-CFS collaboration is on track to build the world’s first fusion device that can generate more energy than it consumes. That device, called SPARC, will likely be ready by 2025.

Dennis Whyte, Director, Center for Plasma Science and Fusion at MIT, says there are many challenges to doing fusion. But once the technology is proven, Whyte boasts that it could be a fundamentally new source of “infinite” energy.


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