The dream of almost limitless clean energy from nuclear fusion is close to being realized. After 6 decades of research and testing fusion finally appears to be on the cusp of delivering on its promise to revolutionize energy production. Sometimes called “star in a jar” because the technology mimics the energy conversion processes like those in our sun.
This most recent fusion achievement comes on the heels of other strides that have been made in the US, Germany and elsewhere.
In 2016 scientists from MIT broke the record for plasma pressure. Using powerful new magnet technology engineers at MIT’ have developed a mini modular fusion ARC reactor that generates the same amount of power as its larger predecessors. The small size of this reactor contributes to its cost effectiveness.
At the end of 2015 a German fusion reactor called the Wendelstein 7-X (W 7-X) “stellerator” successfully controled plasma. In 2016 the stellerator achieved the more challenging goal of working with hydrogen plasma.
The stellerator is an international effort that is currently operated by Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics in Germany. Tests were conducted in collaboration with scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL). These test confirmed that it worked. What makes the stellerator superior to the Tokomak reactor is that it controls plasma without the need for any electrical current. This makes the stellerator more stable, because they can keep going even if the internal current is interrupted.
In 2019, the reactor will begin to use deuterium instead of hydrogen to produce actual fusion reactions.
France’s ITER tokamak reactor has also been able to trap plasma long enough for fusion to occur.
In December 2016, South Korean researchers became the first to sustain ‘high performance’ plasma of up to 300 million degrees Celsius (540 million degrees Fahrenheit). However, this lasted for only 70 seconds.