A faster, cheaper path to fusion energy

November 5, 2018, American Physical Society
A rendition of the SPARC high-field tokamak experiment, which would produce the first fusion plasma to have a net energy gain. Credit: Ken Filar

Scientists are working to dramatically speed up the development of fusion energy in an effort to deliver power to the electric grid soon enough to help mitigate impacts of climate change. The arrival of a breakthrough technology—high-temperature superconductors, which can be used to build magnets that produce stronger magnetic fields than previously possible—could help them achieve this goal. Researchers plan to use this technology to build magnets at the scale required for fusion, followed by construction of what would be the world's first fusion experiment to yield a net energy gain.

The effort is a collaboration between Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Plasma Science & Fusion Center and Commonwealth Fusion Systems, and they will present their work at the American Physical Society Division of Plasma Physics meeting in Portland, Ore.

Fusion power is generated when nuclei of small atoms combine into larger ones in a process that releases enormous amounts of energy. These nuclei, typically heavier cousins of hydrogen called deuterium and tritium, are positively charged and so feel strong repulsion that can only be overcome at temperatures of hundreds of millions of degrees. While these temperatures, and thus reactions, can be produced in modern fusion experiments, the conditions required for a net energy gain have not yet been achieved.

One potential solution to this could be increasing the strength of the magnets. Magnetic fields in fusion devices serve to keep these hot ionized gases, called plasmas, isolated and insulated from ordinary matter. The quality of this insulation gets more effective as the field gets stronger, meaning that one needs less space to keep the plasma hot. Doubling the magnetic field in a allows one to reduce its volume—a good indicator of how much the device costs—by a factor of eight, while achieving the same performance. Thus, stronger magnetic fields make fusion smaller, faster and cheaper.

A breakthrough in superconductor technology could allow plants to come to fruition. Superconductors are materials that allow currents to pass through them without losing energy, but to do so they must be very cold. New superconducting compounds, however, can operate at much higher temperatures than conventional superconductors. Critical for fusion, these superconductors function even when placed in very strong magnetic fields.

While originally in a form not useful for building magnets, researchers have now found ways to manufacture high-temperature superconductors in the form of "tapes" or "ribbons" that make magnets with unprecedented performance. The design of these magnets is not suited for fusion machines because they are much too small. Before the new fusion device, called SPARC, can be built, the new must be incorporated into the kind of large, strong magnets needed for fusion.

Once the magnet development is successful, the next step will be to construct and operate the SPARC . SPARC will be a tokamak fusion device, a type of magnetic confinement configuration similar to many machines already in operation (Figure 1).

As an accomplishment analogous to the Wright brothers' first flight at Kitty Hawk, demonstrating a net energy gain, the aim of fusion research for more than 60 years, could be enough to put fusion firmly into national plans and launch commercial development. The goal is to have SPARC operational by 2025.

Explore further: Breakthrough in superconducting materials opens new path to fusion

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Mark Thomas
3.4 / 5 (8) Nov 05, 2018
The goal is to have SPARC operational by 2025.


If things continue this way, SPARC is going to surpass and completely obsolete ITER. We will probably have a first generation fusion powerplant design, if not a working prototype, by the time ITER is scheduled to finally begin deuterium-tritium experiments in 2035. There should be another investigation of ITER with a focus this time on corruption in addition to mismanagement.

https://www.iter....lestones
Nik_2213
5 / 5 (7) Nov 05, 2018
As I understand it, there is a lot of 'cross pollination' between the different approaches. Developments for one may find its way into the others at the next opportunity.
Thankfully, not like the early steam power pioneers, who patented and litigated so enthusiastically, it set the field back by a generation...
Um, IIRC, the Wright Bros tried that, too. Is that why competing aircraft had their control surfaces at the back, rather than the Wrights' canards ??
rodkeh
1.5 / 5 (17) Nov 05, 2018
They still have no concept of subatomic structure, it is ludicrous believe that fusion is even possible, much less that these fools could figure it out.
Mark Thomas
3.9 / 5 (7) Nov 05, 2018
there is a lot of 'cross pollination' between the different approaches.


It seems like the 'cross pollination' is all flowing one way to ITER, but perhaps you can describe some examples where the reverse is true. One thing that is clear is there is no science flowing from actual plasma experiments at ITER to others because they don't even have first plasma scheduled until very late 2025, and nothing slips more than an ITER schedule.

Maybe I am missing something here, but looking at ITER's bizarre timeline, it looks like what little is scheduled between 2020 and 2035 is being done serially instead of in parallel with massive gaps in between. If the same countries were doing everything, you might argue this is to spread out the cost, but that is less convincing with ITER because different countries are doing different components.

https://www.iter....lestones

IMHO, ITER is a great idea, but the actual implementation is way too slow.
jonesdave
3.9 / 5 (18) Nov 05, 2018
They still have no concept of subatomic structure, it is ludicrous believe that fusion is even possible, much less that these fools could figure it out.


And what the hell would you know?
Phyllis Harmonic
4.4 / 5 (7) Nov 05, 2018
If things continue this way, SPARC is going to surpass and completely obsolete ITER.


ITER was designed before the newest generations of superconductors were available. ITER is now succumbing to the escalation of commitment that sunk-costs engender. SPARK has the advantage of an agile development model and new materials and technology that combined, dramatically shortens the path to breakeven and the reduction in costs to do so.
Mark Thomas
4.3 / 5 (12) Nov 05, 2018
They still have no concept of subatomic structure


Stupid comment.

it is ludicrous believe that fusion is even possible


Stupid comment.

much less that these fools could figure it out.


Stupid comment.

Three strikes and you are out. The problem is NOT a lack of understanding of subatomic structure, NOT the infeasibility of fusion and NOT the lack of intelligence of the scientists involved, many of whom are more brilliant than you can imagine. I believe the problem primarily lies in the mismanagement of the ITER project. Some people want to compare ITER to the Manhattan Project of the Apollo Project, but there is no sense of urgency associated with ITER. NASA went from its birth to moon landing in less than 11 years. ITER is already 12 years old and has accomplished little to nothing.
Phyllis Harmonic
4.5 / 5 (15) Nov 05, 2018
They still have no concept of subatomic structure, it is ludicrous believe that fusion is even possible, much less that these fools could figure it out.


And what the hell would you know?

You should see some of the other crap this guy spews, like "There is no such thing as a GHG . . ." https://medium.co...ab5c37ae
Mark Thomas
3.9 / 5 (9) Nov 05, 2018
ITER was designed before the newest generations of superconductors were available. ITER is now succumbing to the escalation of commitment that sunk-costs engender.


That is a nice story, but It is ITER's unexplained delays that have made this possible. If ITER had been completed in 2016, as it was originally supposed to be, they would not be getting caught flat-footed by advancing technology in superconductors now. A previous investigation showed mismanagement and I see no evidence their management has improved. For example, why is an entire decade (2025-2035) needed to go from first plasma to D-T experiments? Given the seriousness of global warming, can't this be compressed into a year or two instead of ten years?
Paul0001
4.6 / 5 (5) Nov 05, 2018
Perhaps I'm just ignorant, but doesn't the ITER design include superconducting magnets...and what is so new about these magnets?
halslater
1.5 / 5 (2) Nov 05, 2018
I believe the underlying problem is that centralized energy benefits only the wealthy at the expense of the community. It is inefficient due to the exponential increase in transmission losses with both volume and distance, the vulnerability due to climate change and terrorism, and the lack of economy of scale in distribution costs. Distributed generation is taking over with community and rooftop solar with battery storage. We should save our money and stop public funding for both projects.
bullwinkle
5 / 5 (9) Nov 05, 2018
Perhaps I'm just ignorant, but doesn't the ITER design include superconducting magnets...and what is so new about these magnets?


ITER uses very old (discovered over 60 years ago) superconductor tech...low temperature superconductors that cannot support the higher fields alluded to in this article. The SPARC concept is using newly developed "REBCO" type II superconductor, which not only supports very high magnetic fields, but can be manufactured in a special tape that overcomes many of the previous mechanical and thermal issues with type II superconductors, mainly issues of being brittle. The new material allows for much high magnetic fields and design flexibility (both literally and figuratively). This technology wasn't possible when ITER was designed.

Phyllis Harmonic
5 / 5 (7) Nov 05, 2018
Perhaps I'm just ignorant, but doesn't the ITER design include superconducting magnets...and what is so new about these magnets?


The ITER magnets use an older generation of SCs (Nb3-Sn or Nb-Ti) and are formed as bundles of round wires carried in round conduits. These also have to be cooled to ~ 4 Kelvin (-269 °C). The new technology is based on high(er) temp SCs and are formed as ribbons that have a rectangular cross section. This profile eliminates most of the inactive interstitial volume incurred by round cross-section conductors, and so allows more SC material to inhabit a given volume. HTSCs also do not require as elaborate a cooling system. Finally, the HTSCs can remain superconductors at higher magnetic field strengths than can Ni-Sn or Ti-Sn SCs.

Edit: Also, what Bullwinkle said. : )
Phyllis Harmonic
4.3 / 5 (6) Nov 05, 2018
If ITER had been completed in 2016, as it was originally supposed to be, they would not be getting caught flat-footed by advancing technology in superconductors now.


Very good points, Mark!
gopher65
4.9 / 5 (10) Nov 05, 2018
One thing that I'd add to the comments here is that research done at ITER benefits the whole field, if only so that others know what paths *not* to take.

The counter argument is that it doesn't benefit the field enough to suck 60 billion dollars out of fusion research. Of course, the only reason ITER is getting 60 billion dollars is because it is a huge job program. If it didn't exist, that money wouldn't be going to fusion research, it would be going to subsidies for Airbus, Arianespace, or some other random military contractor.
jonesdave
4.1 / 5 (9) Nov 05, 2018
One thing that I'd add to the comments here is that research done at ITER benefits the whole field, if only so that others know what paths *not* to take.


You should see how much money the con artist Randell Mills has pulled in over the years, with his non-existent, lower than ground state, hydrino junk. Seriously weird what some idiots will invest in. ITER is fine, conceptually. How it has been run is beyond my knowledge.

rodkeh
2.1 / 5 (7) Nov 05, 2018
And what the hell would you know?


Everything of course!
DarkHorse66
4.8 / 5 (8) Nov 05, 2018
And what the hell would you know?


Everything of course!


Everything of nothing is STILL nothing!
(maybe you should actually learn some (real) physics)

Best Regards, DH66
Phyllis Harmonic
5 / 5 (8) Nov 05, 2018
Everything of course


Rodney often cites Eunice Newton Foot whom he says proved the absence of GHG effects, particularly as they relate to CO2. Here is what he has to say:

"There is no such thing as a GHG, which was proven beyond the sadow [sic] of any doubt back in 1856 by Eunice Foote."


However, what Eunice Foote actually said can be seen here in Article XXXI of the American Journal of Science (https://archive.o...ode/2up)

"On comparing the sun's heat in different gases, I found it to be in hydrogen gas, 104 F., in common air, 106F; in oxygen gas, 108 F; and in carbonic acid gas [CO2], 125 F."

Rod Kehler knows little to nothing of value as it regards GHGs and their effect on the planet.
DarkHorse66
5 / 5 (11) Nov 05, 2018
... it is ludicrous believe that fusion is even possible, much less that these fools could figure it out.

Mmmm...
I wonder what keeps our sun (or any star) "burning"...
https://nineplane...sol.html
https://en.wikipe...wiki/Sun

Somebody probably lit a large candle. ;)

Cheers, DH66
Old_C_Code
4.3 / 5 (6) Nov 06, 2018
Safe molten salt fission. Amazing how safe fission is ignored.

From MIT:

https://www.techn...decades/
dustywells
3 / 5 (2) Nov 06, 2018
If things continue this way, SPARC is going to surpass and completely obsolete ITER.
So the elusive success will be a perpetual 25 years from 'now' instead of the perpetual 50 years?
Try this ansatz
3 / 5 (2) Nov 06, 2018
NASA went from its birth to moon landing in less than 11 years. ITER is already 12 years old and has accomplished little to nothing.


This is a somewhat odd comparison, better to compare the financial resources.

President Kennedy announced the cost of the Apollo program to be "more than 50 cents per US citizen per week".

0.5 * 200,000,000 * 52 = 5,200,000,000 US dollar (1962) per year.

Inflation is about a factor of 8.

This makes 40 billion dollar per year, more than twice the total ITER budget!

I think that ITER would do much better having 20 x their present budget.
Phyllis Harmonic
5 / 5 (6) Nov 06, 2018
... it is ludicrous believe that fusion is even possible, much less that these fools could figure it out.

Mmmm...
I wonder what keeps our sun (or any star) "burning"...
https://nineplane...sol.html

Somebody probably lit a large candle. ;)

Cheers, DH66


Not to mention those pesky hydrogen bombs!
PlasmaLabRat
4.5 / 5 (8) Nov 06, 2018
there is a lot of 'cross pollination' between the different approaches.


It seems like the 'cross pollination' is all flowing one way to ITER, but perhaps you can describe some examples where the reverse is true. .


There is a fair amount of diagnostics development work that coming out of ITER that is useful to other projects, including development related to the higher temperatures (many optical and RF diagnostics changing to different wavelengths) and making optics and other stuff more resilient to long operation and higher neutron flux. ITER diagnostics work still has a laundry list of problems, and there is nothing special about ITER in terms of this work, as any long lifetime, burning plasma would need something similar. However, the point is some minor fraction of money being spent on ITER is amounting to work that has wider usage and benefits, with some non-zero exchange of novel work coming *out* of ITER instead of just sinking in.
PlasmaLabRat
4.6 / 5 (9) Nov 06, 2018
They still have no concept of subatomic structure, it is ludicrous believe that fusion is even possible, much less that these fools could figure it out.


Uh, fusion reactions have been done for quite a while already, just not in a way that produces useful energy. A bench top setup lets you map out the reaction rates pretty easily, experimentally confirming what happens between roughly mono-energy fuel components. The only difference between a reactor for power and that bench top setup is that the reactor will have a thermal distribution with a small portion of the tail of the energy distribution is involved in reactions. In other words, a simple convolution operation of existing experimental data.

The hard part of fusion is not the understanding of the fusion reactions, or even reaching high temperatures, as both of those have been done on very small scale experiments already a long time ago. The hard part is achieving and maintaining temperatures *efficiently*.
torbjorn_b_g_larsson
4.5 / 5 (8) Nov 06, 2018
Oy. Why the irrelevant sideshow with ITER complaints?

ITER is a multinational, complex, difficult project [ https://www.iter....C-17.pdf ]. Delays are to be expected. (C.f. how relatively simpler building projects average something like 50 % above budget IIRC.) Its cost is a small fraction of global energy costs,

Then again, since solar and wind has become much cheaper and is currently in exponential global growth, fusion is hardly a priority any longer. It can be useful for megacities perhaps, or colonies throughout the system.
betterexists
1 / 5 (1) Nov 07, 2018
There are so many STARS. They use NO Fusion Reactors; So, it is in our best interest to toss several gadgets to reach them ASAP and SPY on their Exceptional Skill !
Hyperfuzzy
1 / 5 (2) Nov 07, 2018
Fusion? We are stupid! Fused charges move less, i.e. less energy! Energy is produced by the motion of charges! Maybe fission! You get a lot of spirals and wiggles and sinusoids and charge centers flying around! Now there's a lot of energy. Fusion? meh
DarkHorse66
5 / 5 (2) Nov 08, 2018
There are so many STARS. They use NO Fusion Reactors; So, it is in our best interest to toss several gadgets to reach them ASAP and SPY on their Exceptional Skill !

Stars are NATURAL fusion reactors. You DO know what nuclear fusion is, right?
Here are a couple of links (starting with basic info) that might help you (& give a hopefully informative discussion):
(read all 3 pages):
https://www.bbc.c...vision/1
http://www.nuclea...r-fusion
http://hyperphysi...ion.html
https://en.wikipe...r_fusion
https://www.brita...r-fusion
cont...
DarkHorse66
5 / 5 (2) Nov 08, 2018
...cont

Here is some history. This might help too:
https://lppfusion...n-power/
https://www.newsc...-fusion/
https://www.euro-...-fusion/
https://en.wikipe...r_fusion
https://en.wikipe...on_power
The wiki page on nuclear fusion in my previous post also lists just how many surprisingly different methods for possibly achieving fusion by way of technology are already known.

Happy Reading!
Best Regard, DH66
DarkHorse66
5 / 5 (3) Nov 08, 2018
@Hyperfuzzy:
The reason you got marked down by another poster is because fusion has absolutely nothing to do with "charges". Or "wriggles".
From https://en.wikipe..._fusion:
" Fusion is the process that powers active or "main sequence" stars, or other high magnitude stars."

The point is that when 2 lighter elements are being 'fused' together,they:

a) create a heavier element. This process can be repeated, to create even heavier elements. As a rule of thumb, the denser the star, the heavier the final element in the production chain can be. For example, all the gold in the Universe has been made this way, inside denser stars.

b) (& this is the important bit) In the process of 'fusing' there is an explosive release of something called 'binding energy' https://en.wikipe...g_energy . This binding energy becomes 'excess energy' with respect to the newly created element.

cont...
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (3) Nov 08, 2018
@PlasmaLabRat, thanks for that. Two 5s for you. Good to see someone arguing for ITER rationally.
DarkHorse66
5 / 5 (3) Nov 08, 2018
...cont

This is also the energy that is then radiated away from the star, in the form of light.

Also, read (at least) the more basic links that I gave above. Then you will (or should have) at least some idea about what fusion is actually about & why fusion is considered to be a desirable skill/process to master.

Best Regards, DH66
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (2) Nov 08, 2018
@DarkHorse, an admitted quibble: a recent article here on physorg discussed whether heavy elements might also/instead be cooked up in neutron star mergers.

https://phys.org/...als.html
This was the first such article; there was at least one other but I can't be bothered to find it. I say this is a quibble but they've actually done the math and physics to show this not only accounts for enough heavy metals but also for their relative abundances.
DarkHorse66
5 / 5 (3) Nov 08, 2018
@Da Schneib:

That's fair enough; I have not exactly been in the position to visit this site regularly over the past few years, & keep up to date :)
The theory is certainly plausible, we will just have to wait & see what further research might emerge in the future. After all, there is definitely plenty more that the Universe has to tell us...

https://phys.org/...tml#nRlv
Was that the article that you were talking about? It was directly beneath, in 'Related Stories'. :)

Best Regards, DH66
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (2) Nov 08, 2018
@DarkHorse, no, but it's along the same lines. The one I'm thinking of was based on the LIGO detection and had a much more, ahem, extensive comment list.

Anyway, be aware that this is a current discussion among astrophysics theorists.
DarkHorse66
5 / 5 (4) Nov 08, 2018
btw (to pre-empt any 'questionable' claims by others), if the research in the article that Da Schneib posted does turn out to be correct, this does NOT mean that fusion was not involved in the creation of the heavier elements. The very fact that an even heavier element is created by such a collision, tells you that the very collision of such neutron stars combines the respective densities of both. This increase then triggers the extra fusion step that makes the creation of the heavier element, possible.

Cheers, DH66
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (3) Nov 08, 2018
@DarkHorse, and just something to add to your information, check out r-process nucleosynthesis.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (3) Nov 08, 2018
Oy. Why the irrelevant sideshow with ITER complaints?

One should also consider that when ITER was started the knowledge base was different. A lot has happened since in terms of modelling, superconductors and finding about about new, niggling issues (impurity and instability issues of the contained plasma)

The problem why ITER is taking so long may just be that controlled fusion is really, really hard.
granville583762
1 / 5 (1) Nov 08, 2018
ITER, without magnetic fields is doomed
ITER was designed before the newest generations of superconductors were available. ITER is now succumbing to the escalation of commitment that sunk-costs engender.

That is a nice story, but It is ITER's unexplained delays that have made this possible. If ITER had been completed in 2016, as it was originally supposed to be, they would not be getting caught flat-footed by advancing technology in superconductors now. A previous investigation showed mismanagement and I see no evidence their management has improved. For example, why is an entire decade (2025-2035) needed to go from first plasma to D-T experiments? Given the seriousness of global warming, can't this be compressed into a year or two instead of ten years?

Except solar fusion depends on the rising and falling plasma electric fields, generating infinitely greater magnetic fields that superconductors can only dream of!
jonesdave
3 / 5 (4) Nov 08, 2018
Except solar fusion depends on the rising and falling plasma electric fields, generating infinitely greater magnetic fields that superconductors can only dream of!


Stop commenting on things that you don't understand, you idiot. The Sun is powered by the p-p fusion chain. That is not what is happening at ITER. p-p fusion is incredibly inefficient. We don't even try to replicate it. The pressures are well beyond what we can create. Just go away, you loon.

Da Schneib
3 / 5 (2) Nov 08, 2018
Oy. Why the irrelevant sideshow with ITER complaints?

One should also consider that when ITER was started the knowledge base was different. A lot has happened since in terms of modelling, superconductors and finding about about new, niggling issues (impurity and instability issues of the contained plasma)

The problem why ITER is taking so long may just be that controlled fusion is really, really hard.
@antialias, ITER is not agile enough to incorporate new technology. That's because it's a bureaucracy run by politicians. This is the ongoing problem in many fields.
Mark Thomas
1 / 5 (1) Nov 09, 2018
Oy. Why the irrelevant sideshow with ITER complaints?


The problem why ITER is taking so long may just be that controlled fusion is really, really hard.


Unfortunately, an earlier investigation already found mismanagement (Google this is you don't believe me or recall). Changes were made but I am not seeing a real world improvement.

For example, can anyone convincing justify not even beginning D-T experiments until 2035?

https://www.iter....lestones
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (2) Nov 09, 2018
For example, can anyone convincing justify not even beginning D-T experiments until 2035?
Uhhh do you think the scientists might have convincing reasons? Did you bother to look them up?
savvys84
not rated yet 12 hours ago
I had synthesized high temp superconductors way back in 2010
antialias_physorg
not rated yet 12 hours ago
ITER is not agile enough to incorporate new technology. That's because it's a bureaucracy run by politicians. This is the ongoing problem in many fields.

I think you don't appreciate the timeline it takes to go from basic research to a real *hardware* product (e.g. from simulating the geometry of the superconducting coils to finally making and installing them). Every one of the components is basically hand made. It takes years and years from getting the "go" to make one to finally having them tested and on site.

If one were that 'agile' to always throw out the 'old' (uninstalled and untried) stuff whenever a new paper rears its head nothing would ever get done. There have been redesigns along the way.

Yes, there is a bit of bureaucracy. If a country contracts to do component X and suddenly one wants to go with component Y it's a bit of a political issue to take that (and the funding) away and give it to another partner better suited to produce component Y.

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