China's quest for clean, limitless energy heats up

The Anhei tokamak is the first facility in the world to generate 100 million degrees Celsius (212 million Fahrenheit)
The Anhei tokamak is the first facility in the world to generate 100 million degrees Celsius (212 million Fahrenheit)

A ground-breaking fusion reactor built by Chinese scientists is underscoring Beijing's determination to be at the core of clean energy technology, as it eyes a fully-functioning plant by 2050.

Sometimes called an "artificial sun" for the sheer heat and power it produces, the doughnut-shaped Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) that juts out on a spit of land into a lake in eastern Anhui province, has notched up a succession of research firsts.

In 2017 it became the world's first such facility to sustain certain conditions necessary for nuclear fusion for longer than 100 seconds, and last November hit a personal-best temperature of 100 million degrees Celsius (180 million Fahrenheit)—six times as hot as the sun's core.

Such mind-boggling temperatures are crucial to achieving fusion reactions, which promise an inexhaustible energy source.

EAST's main reactor stands within a concrete structure, with pipes and cables spread outward like spokes connecting to a jumble of sensors and other equipment encircling the core. A red Chinese flag stands on top of the reactor.

"We are hoping to expand international cooperation through this device (EAST) and make Chinese contributions to mankind's future use of nuclear fusion," said Song Yuntao, a top official involved in the project, on a recent tour of the facility.

China is also aiming to build a separate fusion reactor that could begin generating commercially viable fusion power by mid-century, he added.

Some six billion yuan ($890 million) has been promised for the ambitious project.

EAST is part of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project, which seeks to prove the feasibility of fusion power.

Funded and run by the European Union, India, Japan, China, Russia, South Korea, and the United States, the multi-billion-dollar project's centrepiece will be a giant cylindrical fusion device, called a tokamak.

Now under construction in Provence in southern France, it will incorporate parts developed at the EAST and other sites, and draw on their research findings.

Fusion is what powers our sun - it merges atomic nuclei to create massive amounts of energy
Fusion is what powers our sun - it merges atomic nuclei to create massive amounts of energy

Unlimited power, mega budgets

Fusion is considered the Holy Grail of energy and is what powers our sun.

It merges atomic nuclei to create massive amounts of energy—the opposite of the fission process used in atomic weapons and nuclear power plants, which splits them into fragments.

Fusion emits no greenhouse gases. Unlike fission, fusion carries less risk of accidents or the theft of atomic material.

But acheiving fusion is both extremely difficult and prohibitively expensive—the total cost of ITER is estimated at 20 billion euros ($22.5 billion).

Wu Songtao, a top Chinese engineer with ITER, conceded that China's technical capabilities on fusion still lag behind more developed countries, and that US and Japanese tokamaks have achieved more valuable overall results.

But the Anhui test reactor underlines China's fast-improving scientific advancement and its commitment to achieve yet more.

China's capabilities "have developed rapidly in the past 20 years, especially after catching the ITER express train," Wu said.

In an interview with state-run Xinhua news agency in 2017, ITER's Director-General Bernard Bigot lauded China's government as "highly motivated" on fusion.

"Fusion is not something that one country can accomplish alone," Song said.

"As with ITER, people all over the world need to work together on this."


Explore further

Nuclear fusion project faces delay over US budget cuts: director

© 2019 AFP

Citation: China's quest for clean, limitless energy heats up (2019, April 28) retrieved 21 July 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-04-china-quest-limitless-energy.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.
3358 shares

Feedback to editors

User comments

Apr 28, 2019
I hope that ITER is successful, and that fusion is a part of our future energy mix. They are talking of a working prototype in 30 years time. I wonder what the cost of wind and solar will be 30 years from now - given that we are currently in the 2 - 3 cents Kwh range - and continuing down. Perhaps because of the lower concern about safety - fusion will come in cheaper than fission. I think that distributed wind and solar will prove more viable, and cost effective. Massive budget - government run projects seem problematic. Let the games begin!

Apr 28, 2019
Fusion is a must. There are regions where wind and solar aren't viable.
We haven't even begun to explore the possibility of ocean floor living or off-world..anything.

Even though it's always "just 30 years away" the amount of progress that has been made in this is enormous (as are the amount of new challenges that have cropped up...but then again: we're trying to replicate conditions of the friggin' sun! If anyone thought this was going to be easy they should think again).

Working fusion reactors would be something that could get whole chunks of countries that have lagged behind in abandoning fossil fuels off of them (e.g. Russia) - and it might allow other countries that are just now getting into the full swing of things to bypass the fossil step alltogether.

Apr 28, 2019
I keep looking at the giant fusion reactor in the sky and wonder why we're spending all this money on this.

Apr 28, 2019
@ Da Schneib - I am conflicted on this one. Perhaps there is simply the justification that this is such an amazing technology - we need to do it. If for example - some day we build massive scale desalination plants - and then pump water thousands of miles - this concentrated/huge scale power source may be perfect. Seems we always can find enough spare cash for a new F-35 program. https://www.forbe...9ed37501


Apr 28, 2019
given that we are currently in the 2 - 3 cents Kwh range - and continuing down.


No we're not. Real unsubsidized power purchase agreements from things like off-shore wind farms come around 6.5 cents and up.

Those lowball bids you're talking about are either subsidized, or suicide bids to drive off competition. They're not real. No wind/solar system is producing energy profitably at 3 cents/kWh.

Point being, the installed cost of a domestic solar panel ranges from $3 - 5 per Watt. Over 30 years that price costs you at minimum 9 c/kWh. Even if the industry gets them at half the price, that's still 4.5 c/kWh and they have to sell it higher to turn a profit.

Apr 28, 2019
I keep looking at the giant fusion reactor in the sky and wonder why we're spending all this money on this.

Probably because at some point we want to convert our heating sector to electricity, too. Heating needs to work at night and uring wintertime. especially in areas where the amount of sunshine per day is reduced drastically during winter this would be a good, stable source of heta/electricity.

Then again we may find a way to easily (and above all efficiently) store renewable power.

But I don't think we'll be able to run a colony on Mars (or Io/Ganymede/Titan) on solar.

Apr 28, 2019
Fusion rockets are another possible benefit of a working fusion reactor, with very high specific impulse while still maintaining acceptable thrust.

Apr 28, 2019
The flag propped up at the top of the system makes this seem like BS propaganda. They should know better.

Apr 28, 2019
The flag propped up at the top of the system makes this seem like BS propaganda. They should know better.

Would have more propaganda appeal if some guys in lab coats were propping it up...

Apr 28, 2019
I am sure fusion power will become a practical option one day, its just a matter of when, not if. The main problem I see with it is that it will probably come far too late to help with the current problem and in the mean time renewables, with off-the-grid energy storage and/or a supergrid and possibly complemented with just a bit of old fission power, is the answer.
But, that said, I have been looking at any news of fusion power development hoping that some kind of surprise breakthrough will occur that will make it come of age much sooner than I expected. That certainly hasn't happened yet but, anyway, I think this article is of some interest. They say "fully-functioning plant by 2050" but what we really desperately need is something vaguely more like "fully-functioning plant by 2025" else I don't see how its going to help us much!

Apr 28, 2019
We will have fusion a lot sooner than many think. The very idea of a fusion rocket means a revolution in infrastructure in space. A fusion rocket can take off and land in one stage; and do it many times. A fusion rocket means a constant acceleration machine so it is also an artificial grav generator. Half the way to any destination in system, it accelerates, and at mid way it turns its thrust off in order to turn around; then, facing its engine toward the destination, it restarts and decelerated until it arrives. Such a ship could have a saucer shape to allow lots of space for crew and storage. The fusion reactor and primary thruster need not occupy the majority of the space because of its large energy density. What does not do out the nozzle as thrust can be harvested by superconducting magnetohydrothermodynamic coils from the fields generated by the moving conductors of the exhaust stream. Mid course corrections can be provided by Shawer thrusters

Apr 28, 2019
100 million C is 180 million F, not 212 million.

Apr 28, 2019
Eikka
the installed cost of a domestic solar panel ranges from $3 - 5 per Watt
You are ignorant of the facts - but just like SEU - you insist on promoting your opinion as being informed.
the Q1 PV cost benchmarks are $2.70 per watt of direct current (Wdc) for residential systems (a 4.9% cost decline), $1.83 per Wdc for commercial systems (a 2.6% decrease), $1.06 per Wdc for fixed-tilt utility-scale systems (a 1.9% increase), and $1.13 per Wdc for one-axis-tracking utility-scale systems

https://www.solar...is-year/
There are more inaccuracies in your post - hopefully it is enough to point out one of the more glaring ones - in order to stop you posting misinformation.

Apr 28, 2019
A valient effort but tilting at windmills....

Modern Physics refuses to admit the obvious and selfevident facts of subatomic structure, so they don't understand that there is no such thing as high energy fusion. Fusion can only occur under conditions of lowered energies.

Apr 28, 2019
Tokomaks are an engineering dead end. Monstrously complex and unlikely to deliver power even as"cheap" as fission

Apr 28, 2019
I suspect that the real use for fusion reactors when they are ultimately perfected is in space travel. They will of course have to be highly miniaturized, at least relative to the monsters envisioned even this century, but I remember working on house sized computers with far less capability than the computers in my phone that fit on a fingernail sized chip.

Apr 28, 2019
Re: dirk_bruere. Yeah, no not really. The efficiency of fusion has increased over 10,000,000 fold since from the 1970's to the late 1990's when we reached breakeven. For a few billion in public investment, we could have easily had viable fusion by 2005. Instead, we wasted 1 trillion trying to secure a non-renewable resource through idiotic oil wars. Don't believe the capitalist propaganda. There are vested interest in keeping energy expensive and dirty to maintein the oil billionaires wealth. They said the same crap about solar, until the Chinese did it, and will again with fusion. If we want faster computers, electric cars, a serious space endeavor, or even cures for cancer, we need public investment...our government too small and too corrupted now by privatized interest who want to monopolize any innonvation...and will stifle progress until some foreign country takes up the mantle. Knowledge dies in darkness....selling off computers to Gates of space to Mosk...big mistake.

Apr 28, 2019
Let me guess: It will be "too cheap to meter".

Apr 29, 2019
The Tokamak style of fusion reactor is very difficult to engineer so that it can produce useful quantities of energy but it is not the only way to cause fusion to release heat and energy. One alternative is by using the thorium salts and this device can be reduced in scale, even to domestic sizes, without danger of melt-down or the production of radio-active waste, in fact it can use spent plutonium from the fission devices currently in use. So I reckon that there should be much greater emphasis given to alternatives to the Tokmak style of fusion.

Apr 29, 2019
I hope they succeed

Apr 29, 2019
As the world's greatest polluter of the earth's atmosphere and creator of the greatest effect on climate change, it is little wonder that China is seeking a solution to the problem of cheap carbon-dioxide-less power generation. The only fear is that it will come too late and by that time we will be mostly dead or nearly so due to the effects of rising temperatures and the resulting limited supplies of food, water and energy.

Apr 29, 2019
You are aware that China is the biggest investor in renewable energies? (And is installing - year after year - more solar than anyone else?)

Apr 29, 2019
@zbark123 Tokomaks are inherently more complex than fission reactors. This means the electricity they produce will be more expensive. Tokamaks are not the solution for fusion reactors. Other approaches may well be better eg Plasma Focus or Polywell, but we have put all our eggs in that one basket.

Apr 29, 2019
Tokomaks are inherently more complex than fission reactors. This means the electricity they produce will be more expensive. Tokamaks are not the solution for fusion reactors.
dirk_bruere

False inference; Being "more complex" doesn't equate with "more expensive".
There isn't a simplistic linear relationship between the 'complexity' of something and how expensive it is and sometimes the more 'complex' thing is actually LESS expensive.
For example, I have looked at some figures that show that, per kWh, electricity from coal power station generation is sometimes (and probably usually I think but the figures are hard to interpret that way) more expensive than that from fission reactors, and yet fission reactors can be argued to be more 'complex' thus contradicting your implied false inference.

Apr 29, 2019
Fine, let me know when China stops building coal plants. In India and Pakistan and Africa.

Just sayin'.

Apr 29, 2019
Keep your eyes on the prize, folks. Until those coal plants start getting shut down, what happens with oil is meaningless.

Apr 29, 2019
Thorium molten salt SAFE fission reactors are the best future energy solution by far. Created at Oak Ridge in the 60's, and rejected because it doesn't produce weapons grade waste for the military.

But you'll never hear the foolish greens talk about this, they don't know there's SAFE fission. But would still reject Thorium fission for not fitting their perfect dream world.

Apr 29, 2019
old code
But you'll never hear the foolish greens talk about this
The nuclear vs. renewables such as wind and solar is a very robust debate. Many who consider themselves environmentalists - promote the use of nuclear. I consider myself a 'green' - and am very open to the use of LFTR's. I would love to see us cancel the F-35, and the 13 billion dollar aircraft carriers - and divert that money into nuclear research. https://thediplom...pensive/
But - we need to be honest - about all the costs involved. It seems clear to me - that on a level playing field - wind and solar are the cheaper option - and have benefits such as being distributed - and more conducive to competition.
Why not stop with the childish name calling - and actually understand the issues. How much will a Kwh of power be from a LFTR?

Apr 30, 2019
Sick of spin articles dealing with China and their supposed quest for renewables. China is the largest single producer of CO2 and other air-borne pollutants. They continue to build coal-fired power plants because coal is cheap and plentiful. But the left-wing press continues to sing their praises while condemning the West which has reduced CO2 production to 1990 levels. How much longer will this propaganda continue?

Apr 30, 2019
C'mon, this is obvious bullshit: https://www.compe...t-dubai/

US$3 billion worth of coal plants for a trade concession to buy it all from China.

Kick it where it hurts most.

Apr 30, 2019
Sick of spin articles dealing with China and their supposed quest for renewables. China is the largest single producer of CO2 and other air-borne pollutants.
rrrander

Right; China, as a country as a whole, is the world "leader" in total emissions (6018m metric tonnes of carbon dioxide) since it overtook the US (5903) in 2007. But all that really tells you is that China is a fast-developing country with a lot of people. Try again.

A more useful measurement is carbon emissions per person. The average American is responsible for 19.8 tonnes per person compared to the average Chinese person for 4.6 tonnes per person.

...and communism has absolutely nothing to do with that.
So, we can NOT validly use that as propaganda to blame the Chinese for all the pollution and imply that is an excuse for us to not reduce our own pollution.

Apr 30, 2019
Watching the contest between the coalies and the oilies to destroy the world with great interest. /s

Apr 30, 2019
You are ignorant of the facts - but just like SEU - you insist on promoting your opinion as being informed.


Yet I got it close enough. This field is changing daily so being 10% off is expected.

the Q1 PV cost benchmarks are $2.70 per watt of direct current (Wdc) for residential systems (a 4.9% cost decline), $1.83 per Wdc for commercial systems (a 2.6% decrease), $1.06 per Wdc for fixed-tilt utility-scale systems (a 1.9% increase), and $1.13 per Wdc for one-axis-tracking utility-scale systems


At the cheapest point $1.06 you can take the average Cp of, let's say in Germany (11%), add +3% for yearly maintenance and calculate over 30 years. Result 28.9 kWh / $2.57 = 8.8 c/kWh
Forget the upkeep costs and calculate just the purchase price, and you still get 3.6 c/kWh which is MORE than what you claim.

Of course, you're playing it fast and loose yourself: you quote Wdc prices which omits the cost of the grid inverters and grid ties, and all the losses.

Apr 30, 2019
Wdc is the direct nominal DC output of the panels without considering things like temperature effects, or inverter efficiency. It's just the bare panels.

For example, take the 3.6 cents and add 20% for the inverters, and divide by 85% to account for the conversion and transmission losses (assumed 7.5% and 7.5% give or take), and the price goes up to 5.1 c/kWh. Then add upkeep and maintenance... whoops, the real price just went up by a significant margin, and that's even before the power is sold.

Which is exactly in line with what I said. You can fiddle with the numbers all you want, greenonions, but unless you're deliberately lying to yourself, you're not going to make the outcome very different.

Of course you can try special pleading and whip out a case example of Saudi-Arabia or some other equatorial country again, and pretend as if it would apply to New York or London.

Apr 30, 2019
There are more inaccuracies in your post - hopefully it is enough to point out one of the more glaring ones - in order to stop you posting misinformation.


You're pushing blatant propaganda, whether you realize it or not. Your little omissions and caveats that make you claim solar power is less than half of its real price are either the result of desperately wishful thinking, or malice. You decide.

For example:

https://news.ener...-review/
We reviewed quotes offered on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace that included SunPower solar panels and found that these systems were priced between $2.99/Watt and $3.73/Watt. By comparison, the average price on the Marketplace during the same time period was $3.05/W


That's actual system prices, not Wdc.

Find me a supplier that installs you panels at $1 per net Watt of output, without subsidies and credits, and I'll eat my pants.

Apr 30, 2019
Also, please notice that if your system cost is $1 per Watt, and you assume 30 years of operation, you have to produce 50 kWh per Watt to get to 2 c/kWh (without upkeep costs).

That would mean the solar panel/system has to achieve a Cp of 0.19 consistently for 30 years without fading. That's a really tough target. In California, the average Cp for all the solar capacity in 2018 was 0.194 so it is only just physically possible to achieve, if you ignore all the other costs. It's impossible to achieve 2 cents at $1/W if you want the payback to be anything less than 30 years.

https://en.wikipe...neration
2018 capacity(MW) 7879.5 output (GWh) 13,401


Of course, if you're not in California but let's say Boston - forget about it.

Apr 30, 2019
The source study quoted by Greenonions:

https://www.nrel....2399.pdf

According to the report, none of the residential systems have yet to reach 6 cents per kWh (SETO 2020 target) and none of the utility scale systems reach 3 c/kWh (SETO 2030) for their LCOE estimates, including upkeep. The lowest achieved without ITC seems to be around 3.8 c/kWh instead of "2 - 3 cents Kwh range". That was in Arizona.

There's still a distortion to these prices however, since residential customers may rent the solar systems, which means the ITC and other credits go to the company and the apparent installation cost for the purchaser is therefore lower. Other state/county specific subsidies apply as well, and, again, predatory pricing and bidding applies to the lowest offers.

Apr 30, 2019
One example of the hidden subsidies for solar power:

https://www.energ...mption-1

The value added to a property due to installation of a solar system in Massachusetts doesn't count in the property tax for 20 years.

Apr 30, 2019
Ugh. Pennies per kwh? Really?

The cost of fossil fuels has never been calculated or paid by the fossil fuel industry. They bought all the governments to get production subsidies and free resource rights, then socialized the costs of pollution to those living downwind and downstream, and to future generations, if there are any.

The costs of climate change are in the hundreds of trillions, if you put dollars on them. I saw one study last week that said just the difference from 1.5 C to 2.0 C of warming was worth $70 trillion. But that's a low estimate, because they always leave out the costs to non-humans and non-labor-producing humans. You know, like housewives and children. A mass extinction is not a cheap price to pay, if you and yours survive it.

But that's what the 0.1% are counting on: they and theirs can buy their way out via self-contained environments, and the poor don't have enough will or weapons to change that equation.

Apr 30, 2019
Also, I love the Freudian typo in the article:
censors and other equipment encircling the core.

Apr 30, 2019
Anyway, space-based solar would work at night and in cloudy weather. Cheaper than fusion. do the refining and manufacturing in space, and you don't add to global warming. Don't worry about maintenance; just launch many micro-satellites and make sure you bring them back down at end-of-life.

You would need to balance the mass if you took materials from the asteroid belt, though; don't want to change the orbits of the planets.

Apr 30, 2019
Yet I got it close enough. This field is changing daily so being 10% off is expected
No Eikka - you got it wrong. You said
the installed cost of a domestic solar panel ranges from $3 - 5 per Watt
Which is false. I gave you a link that showed solar panels are being installed as low as $1.06 per watt - and that even the benchmark of residential panels was $2.70. So that is black and white - your information was false. You are a liar.
Now - regarding the bigger point. I was asking a pretty straightforward question. Given that solar and wind have dropped precipitously in price - and are today coming in around 2 - 3 cents Kwh. I wonder what the price of wind and solar will be - 30 years from now - when this first prototype is projected to come on line. A very straightforward - and of course - pertinent question. I should not need to have to justify the specific figures - as the point is just that wind and solar have dropped in price - and I wonder how much more cont

Apr 30, 2019
they will continue to drop over the next 30 years. Not too hard a concept to grasp. Not served at all well by someone wanting to pick a fight on specific numbers - instead of understanding the general point. I will justify my numbers. https://www.zmesc...r-power/ (unsubsidized solar at 2.9 cents). https://www.bloom...in-india Wind at 2 cents Kwh.
https://renewecon...y-93695/ Wind at 2.13 cents Kwh.
And you once again have to make an idiot of yourself - by needing to hate on renewables so badly - that you will pick a fight - with lies - that are easily thrown in your face.

Apr 30, 2019
It's the coal plants China is spreading like a plague that are the current problem. Nothing anyone else can do will counter the CO2 they spew. This must stop. Nuclear war to prevent more CO2 spewing coal plants is definitely on the table. This is total war: the Chinese aim to kill everyone else off in order to take over everything no matter how they have damaged everyone else's right to live, or their own. It's evil incarnate.

May 01, 2019
This is total war: the Chinese aim to kill everyone else off in order to take over everything no matter how they have damaged everyone else's right to live, or their own. It's evil incarnate.
I am sure they are no angels; the same goes for the rest of us. But you really must stop doing this insane cold-war paranoia crap that can do us all nothing but harm.

May 01, 2019
I'm sorry but I'm watching a bunch of racists try to kill off everyone else so they can take over the world.

Maybe they could, you know, stop building coal plants.

Like the US$3.4 billion one in the UAE. Do I need to post the link again? Or do you still remember it?

May 01, 2019
...I'm watching a bunch of racists ....
I take it that the word "racists" here specifically and selectively excludes all the racists posters here against Chinese people, which are the people currently been verbally discriminated against. They are not all evil people trying to "take over the world".

May 01, 2019
Then why do they keep building coal plants?

It doesn't have anything to do with race. It has to do with a corrupt government.

Oh, right, "We're gonna meet our Paris commitment because we're building all the pollution swelling coal plants in other peoples' countries." What's up with that?

May 01, 2019
Then why do they keep building coal plants?
The same reason why we once did; economic reasons. Does that mean we were evil people trying to take over the world?

May 01, 2019
Ummm, we weren't building coal plants when we knew they threaten the rest of the human race.

Wee slight bit of difference there.

Then there's the fact we didn't build as many of them.

You know, on Earth. And stuff.

False equivalence fallacies are always easy to spot.

May 01, 2019
we weren't building coal plants when we knew they threaten the rest of the human race.
Actually for a while we were. And we still are using the ones we already built when we knew they threaten the rest of the human race. We are also still making and using petrol cars and we knew they also threaten the rest of the human race. Does all that mean we are evil people and/or extremist communists trying to take over the world?

May 01, 2019
How many? And when?

Let's just get some facts out here.

May 01, 2019
The US has known about global warming since before I was born, and the fossil fuel industry is still building new plants and being subsidized heavily and churning out cars and exporting coal and avoiding any culpability for damages. So "all of them" for at least the last 50 years.

The US may not have been trying to threaten the rest of the human race by means of power plants originally, but in the 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries we didn't bother to hide our efforts at genocide:

Native Americans almost totally wiped out by European American wars of aggression, forced migrations, germ warfare (smallpox-infested blankets, etc.)

Africans imported and bred for slavery, torture, and death

Asians imported for labor, then excluded and persecuted and interned when the railroads were finished

Colonialism in all other parts of the world

Then there's the deforestation and the buffalo and the passenger pigeon. We're downright nice to other humans, by comparison.

May 11, 2019
Keep tilting at windmills, progressive Westerners. You control of your contribution to the carbon load on Earth will mean nothing, as long as China and the Third world keep on their present path. But, how about REAL pollutants instead of non-pollutants like C02? The average 3 wheel gas rickshaw in India produces 100x the pollution of a pollution-controlled gasoline car in the West. As long as environmentalists shift focus from real pollutants, the Earth and people will suffer.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more