Fusion technology reaches a turning point that could change the energy game

(ORDO NEWS) — Our society faces the significant challenge of providing a sustainable, safe and affordable means of generating energy in an attempt to cut carbon emissions to zero by around 2050.

To date, fusion energy developments that potentially meet all of these requirements are funded almost exclusively by the public sector. However, something is changing.

Private investment in the global fusion industry has more than doubled, from $2.1 billion in 2021 to $4.7 billion in 2022, according to a Fusion survey. Industry Association.

So what is causing this recent change? There are many reasons to be excited.

Before we start exploring this issue, let’s take a quick look at what fusion energy is.

Merging atoms together

The fusion works much like our Sun, by fusing two heavy hydrogen atoms under conditions of extreme heat and pressure, releasing a huge amount of energy.

This is the opposite process to the fission process used in nuclear power plants, in which atoms are split. to release a lot of energy.

Sustaining nuclear fusion at scale could create a safe, clean, almost inexhaustible source of energy.

Our Sun supports fusion at its core with charged particle plasma at a temperature of about 15 million degrees Celsius.

On Earth, we aim for hundreds of millions of degrees Celsius because we don’t have the enormous mass of the Sun to compress fuel for us.

Scientists and engineers have come up with several designs for how we might achieve this, but most fusion reactors use strong magnetic fields to “lock in” and contain the hot plasma.

Typically, the main problem to be overcome on the way to commercial fusion power is to create conditions that can contain the intensely burning plasma necessary to create a self-sustaining fusion reaction that produces more energy than was needed to start it.

Combination of public and private

developments in thermonuclear fusion has been developing since the 1950s. Much of this was driven by government funding for basic science.

Now a growing number of private fusion companies around the world are moving forward towards commercial fusion power. The change in attitude of the government was crucial to this.

The US and UK governments are developing public-private partnerships to complement their strategic research programs.

For example, the White House recently announced that it would develop “a bold ten-year vision for commercial fusion power.”

In the United Kingdom, the Government has invested in a program to connect a fusion generator to the national electricity grid.

In fact, technology has also advanced

In addition to public-private resources, the technologies we need for fusion plants have evolved rapidly.

In 2021, scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Commonwealth Fusion Systems have developed a record-breaking magnet that will allow them to create a compact fusion device called SPARC, “which is significantly smaller, cheaper and faster.”

In recent years, several fusion experiments have also reached the milestone of maintaining plasma temperatures at or above 100 million degrees Celsius.

These include the EAST experiment in China, the flagship KSTAR experiment in Korea, and the British company Tokamak Energy.

These incredible feats demonstrate an unprecedented ability to replicate the conditions found inside our Sun and keep the extremely hot plasma trapped long enough to stimulate fusion.

In February, the United European Tor, the world’s most powerful operating tokamak, announced a world record energy holding.

And the next phase of the fusion energy experiment to demonstrate net power gain, ITER, is under construction in France and is about 80 percent complete.

Magnets aren’t the only route to synthesis, either. In November 2021, the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California took a historic step forward in inertial confinement fusion.

By focusing nearly 200 powerful lasers to confine and compress a target the size of a pencil eraser. , they created a small fusion “hot spot” generating fusion energy for a short period of time.

In Australia, a company called HB11 is developing proton-boron fusion technology using a combination of high-power lasers and magnetic fields. areas.

Merger and renewables can go hand in hand

It is critical that investments in fusion do not come at the expense of other forms of renewable energy and away from fossil fuels.

We can afford to scale up the deployment of existing renewable energy technologies such as solar, wind and hydropump, as well as develop next-generation power generation solutions.

This exact strategy was recently mapped out. United States in their Net-Zero Game Chan Initiative Gers. In this regard, resource investments will be directed towards developing a path to rapid decarbonization in parallel with the commercial development of fusion.

History shows us that incredible scientific and engineering progress is possible when we work together with the right resources – the rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines is just one recent example.

Clearly, many scientists, engineers, and now governments and private investors (and even fashion designers) have decided that fusion power is a solution worth pursuing, not a pipe dream. Right now, this is the best chance to make fusion energy a viable reality.

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