Publicado: Sáb, Marcha 10, 2018
Financiera | Por Marilu Caballero

MIT researchers say nuclear fusion will feed the grid "in 15 years"

MIT researchers say nuclear fusion will feed the grid

The claim: Bob Mumgaard, CEO of CFS and until recently a postdoctoral researcher at MIT, tells the Guardian that "the aspiration is to have a working power plant in time to combat climate change".

Fusion is the energy source of the universe, which powers our sun and the distant stars.

"Fusion, the process that powers the sun and stars, involves light elements, such as hydrogen, smashing together to form heavier elements, such as helium - releasing prodigious amounts of energy in the process", according to the MIT campus newsletter with the United States project planning to use new superconducting magnets in getting around the problem of extreme temperatures released during the process.

Eni has signed agreements with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and its spin-off Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS) for the industrial development of fusion power generation technology, it said in a statement. Other nuclear fusion projects include the ITER project in Southern France, where the European Union and worldwide partners are constructing a fusion reactor on a massive scale with cost already spiraling above $10 billion, but unlikely to generate power before the 2030s.

This acceleration in development has been seized upon by a collaboration between MIT and a new private company called Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS), which is backed with funds from Italian energy giant Eni. Using high-field magnets built with high-temperature superconductors, this experiment could be the first controlled fusion plasma to produce net energy output. It will support MIT with more than US$30m of funding over the next three years to develop the world's most powerful large-bore superconducting electromagnets.

One problem, however, with fusion has always been heat.

Prof Howard Wilson, a plasma physicist at York University who works on different fusion projects, said: "The exciting part of this is the high-field magnets".

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Fusion works on the basic concept of forging lighter elements together to form heavier ones.

Other big European oil companies, like Shell, Statoil or Total, focus their future decarbonization strategies more on renewable energies like offshore wind or solar.

In the past, however, it took a huge amount of energy to power the magnets.

Over the next three years, Commonwealth plans to devote $30 million to supporting MIT research into the development of YBCO-based magnets for an experimental reactor known as SPARC. While it will not turn that heat into electricity, it will produce, in pulses of about 10 seconds, as much power as is used by a small city.

The device will be capable of generating 100MW of fusion power and is hoped to ultimately help achieve a full-scale prototype of a fusion power plant - generating a zero carbon, combustion-free source of energy.

Unlike with fossil fuels, or nuclear fuel like uranium used in fission reactions, there will never be a shortage of hydrogen. And it produces no greenhouse gases or long-lived radioactive waste.

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