Massachusetts Start-Up Hopes to Get One Step Closer to Business


A start-up founded by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says the world is approaching a technological milestone that could bring it one step closer to fusion energy, which has eluded scientists for decades.

Researchers at MIT’s Center for Plasma Science and Fusion and engineers at the company Commonwealth Fusion SystemsThey began testing an extremely powerful magnet needed to generate enormous heat that could later be converted into electricity. It will eventually open the doors to what they believe may be a fusion reactor.

Fusion energy has long been cited as one of the most important technologies needed to combat the effects of climate change, as it can produce an abundance of cheap clean energy.

However, despite decades of investment and often overly aggressive promises, there has been no commercial return for fusion research. Despite a long history of international experimentation, scientists have yet to create fusion systems that produce more power than they consume.

Like conventional nuclear fission power that splits atoms, fusion energy will not consume fossil fuels and produce no greenhouse gases. Its fuel, usually hydrogen isotopes, is more desirable than nuclear fission, as it is more abundant than the uranium used by existing nuclear power plants, and fusion plants will produce less hazardous and less radioactive waste.

While a fusion energy breakthrough is still elusive, it is still seen as one of the possible high-tech ways to end reliance on fossil fuels. And some researchers believe that fusion research may finally take a step forward this decade.

more than that two dozen private ventures Government-funded consortia in the United States, Europe, China and Australia are now investing heavily in efforts to build commercial fusion reactors. The total investment of people like Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos is approaching $2 billion.

Fusion Industry Association CEO Andrew Holland said the federal government spends about $600 million each year on fusion research, a proposed change to add $1 billion to the Biden administration’s infrastructure bill.

Some start-ups and consortia are building powerful lasers to create fusion reactions, and others are discovering new types of fuels. most of them are have a similar vision — demonstrate that their technology can generate electricity at competitive prices this decade and set up commercial facilities to feed electricity into power grids soon after 2030.

The Commonwealth’s new magnet, which will be one of the world’s most powerful, will be a crucial component in a compact nuclear fusion reactor known as the Tokamak, a design that uses magnetic forces to compress plasma until it’s hotter than the sun. The reactor looks like a ring-shaped jar surrounded by magnets. Soviet physicists first conceived of it in the 1950s.

Commonwealth Fusion executives claim the magnet is a major technology breakthrough that will make Tokamak designs commercially viable for the first time. They say they’re not yet ready to test reactor prototypes, but the researchers are finishing up the magnet and hoping it will be viable by 2025.

Scientists in Massachusetts hope this month they will demonstrate a magnetic field that is almost twice the strength of magnets intended to be used by an alien. Global consortium of the European Union and six other countries He is building a reactor in Cadarache, France. The consortium hopes to start generating electricity at the site in 2035.

“If you go to a much higher magnetic field, you can go to a much smaller one,” said plasma physicist Bob Mumgaard, CEO of Commonwealth. He said that if it were possible to build a device, it would be only one-fiftieth its size. Reactor planned in France – roughly the size of a football field – able to generate almost the same amount of power.

The Commonwealth’s magnet will be one of 20 magnets used to create a donut-shaped ship in an area roughly the size of a tennis court. This year Commonwealth, Mass. He built a 47-acre site in Devens where he would build both his prototype reactor and a factory for magnets. Magnets are made by depositing a thin film of exotic materials on a videotape-like support that is wrapped around a flask that is then used to contain the fusion reaction.

The Commonwealth, which has so far raised more than $215 million and employs 100 people, received significant support last year when physicists at MIT’s Center for Plasma Science and Fusion and the company published seven peer-reviewed papers in the Journal of Plasma Physics describing the reactor. will work as planned.

It has been proven back that the Commonwealth prototype reactor can produce more energy than it consumes, a capability that physicists describe as having Q greater than 1. The company hopes that when its prototype is complete it will produce 10 times what it consumes.

By far, the best effort to achieve positive energy output from a fusion reactor has been made by the Joint European Torus, or JET project, a Tokamak that went into operation in Oxfordshire, England, in 1983. Before it was shut down ten years ago, the device could produce 16 megawatts of fusion power while consuming 24 megawatts.

The Commonwealth should also convince skeptics that fusion reactors can generate electricity competitively. The falling costs of other forms of alternative energy and the significant costs of building full-scale fusion reactors are potential barriers.

Daniel Jassby, a retired plasma physicist from Princeton University, has written critical articles about the commercial potential of fusion power in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and Physics and Society. He described some of the startups as dealing with “voodoo fusion energy.” Some companies have yet to demonstrate that their technology will create fusion reactions.

Tokamak designs separate the Commonwealth from this category, as they generate fusion power. However, he argues that new fusion technologies will not be able to produce cheap electricity.

“Their claims are unfounded,” Mr Jassby said in an interview. They might eventually get something like this to work, but not on the time scale they’re talking about.”

In response, Mr Mumgaard said Mr Jassby did not consider the power of the new technical advances that Commonwealth and MIT researchers would soon achieve.

He said that unlike other energy sources, fusion will create energy largely without a resource. “If you add up all the costs, the cost of normal materials like concrete and steel, it will produce as much power as a gas power plant, but without having to pay for gas,” said Mr. Mumgaard.


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