Nuclear fusion may just have taken a big leap forward

MIT teams have succeeded in producing a potentially revolutionary magnet, which could unlock considerable progress in nuclear fusion.

After three years of effort, MIT researchers recently broke the record for the strength of the magnetic field produced by high-temperature superconducting magnets (EST). After more than three years of intensive development, their device has reached an insane intensity of 20 teslas ! As a title comparison, according to Commonwwealth Fusion Systems, that would be enough forr lift over 700 Falcon 9 rockets from SpaceX ! Admittedly, it is still very far from record absolu in the matter. On the other hand, c‘it ist a record in this specific category, by far. Indeed, according to MIT, this magnet consists of 16 individual plates, qwho would each l’ASHT most powerful in the world if they were separated.

This discovery comes with very concrete implications. EIn fact, superconducting magnets of this type are among the technologies that may one day enable us to achieve commercial nuclear fusion. The work of the researchers therefore constitutes a considerable step forward in this direction.

Put a star in a jar

Today, to achieve the fusion, the basic concept begins with the creation of a plasma at an extreme temperature, which would destroy everything material very quickly. The only way to maintain it in order to exploit it is to capture it within an intangible enclave; researchers therefore turned to magnetic fields.

These are indeed capable of imprisoning and heat plasma, but with many constraints. Juntil now, the only way to increase the capacity of the reactor to contain this plasma was to increase the size of the superconducting magnets; when considering an application on an industrial scale, this will obviously raise many concerns of extensibility.

But the magnets produced by researchers at MIT managed to achieve performance equivalent to that of magnets … forty times larger. A mini-revolution, which is all the more beneficial as it does not invalidate the work already carried out on the various tokamaks. EIn theory, it would suffice to combine the “simple physical principles” governing those reactions to thoserevolutionary magnets”To make considerable progress in this discipline.

A plasma in the Korean KSTAR tokamak. © National Fusion Research Institute Korea

The end of a conceptual obstacle?

At present, the it is still onlye a proof of concept. But the MIT teams say they are now ready to move on, that is to say the production. And that’s great news for their experimental tokamak SPARC. En indeed, a series of papers research published last year concluded that if engineers succeeded in producing this magnet, all the rest of SPARK should work. It is now done, and all that remains is to prove this affirmation.

Based on the performance of those magnets, I am now very confident that SPARC can achieve net energy production”, Explains Maria Zuber, vice president of research at MIT. There are still many challenges ahead”, She explains. It will indeed still be necessary to finalize the mechanism which will make it possible to maintain this operation under reliable and profitable conditions. Most those This work nevertheless constitutes a more than considerable advance, one that will perhaps be remembered as a founding stage in the history of nuclear fusion. The future will tell !

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