Fusion Breakthrough At MIT Unlocks Power Of The Stars

By Jason Collins | Published


Nuclear fusion, a much cleaner way of generating nuclear energy—which is, in itself, the cleanest form of energy generation we have—has long been humanity’s dream. Now, that dream is one step closer thanks to the engineers from MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center, who made a new fusion breakthrough. Namely, they made a new type of superconductive magnet that meets the requirements for an economical and compact fusion power plant.

Unlimited Power

The fusion breakthrough refers to a new type of high-temperature superconductive material to help produce a magnet capable of achieving a magnetic field of 20 teslas (not the scientist, but a measurement named after him), which is not only record-breaking but also needed to build a fusion power plant. These magnets are a key enabling technology for the design of new fusion reactors to be used for energy generation, as they’re expected to produce a net output of power that could bring about a new era of virtually limitless power production.

Say Goodbye To Waste

For those not in the loop, the first major nuclear fusion breakthrough, the ignition, which eluded scientists for decades, was produced at the US National Ignition Facility in December 2022 and presented a major leap forward in our energy generation. Theoretically, the process outputs more energy than it consumes and produces far less waste compared to the nuclear fission process. Additionally, fusion reactions combine hydrogen isotopes to form helium as a primary waste product, which isn’t radioactive and has useful applications.

Superconductive Magnets Are The Missing Link

However, what hindered the fusion energy production was the lack of superconductive magnets. Before the fusion breakthrough, the only available superconductive magnets were powerful enough to potentially achieve fusion, but they were massive and costly—or, in other words, impractical and not economically viable for several reasons. Size and power aside, previous fusion magnets required exposure to temperatures of -454°F, which significantly contributed to higher costs of fusion energy production.

Overnight Innovation

fusion breakthrough

However, the recent fusion breakthrough involving superconductive material involves adding rare-earth barium copper oxide to preexisting super-magnets, allowing them to operate at -423.67°F. Though it may not seem like a massive improvement, the ability to superconduct at warmer temperatures brings significant advancements in terms of material properties and practical engineering, such as the reduction in size and cost. These fusion breakthroughs basically revolutionized nuclear fusion energy production overnight.

How It’s Made Things Better

fusion breakthrough

First, the fusion breakthrough made the production of a compact fusion nuclear reactor more economically viable. Secondly, the fuel used in fusion reactions is basically derived from seawater—which is virtually limitless—and it creates a stable byproduct with applicable value. Sure, the reaction produces some radioactive waste as well, but those amounts are significantly lower compared to nuclear fission, which produces highly radioactive waste like Krypton and Cesium that remains hazardous for thousands of years and requires long-term management and storage.

The recent fusion breakthrough also reduces the cost per watt by a factor of 40, which will likely impact the proliferation of EVs and bring about the end of the fossil fuel era, thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This will reduce global warming and the rate of negative climate change. And all of that because a group of adults decided to play with magnets at sub-freezing temperatures.

Source: SciTechDaily