Fusion Soon, Maybe

Fusion Soon, Maybe

(This is a repost of an article that was erased from the website by accident. A total of four articles will be republished over the next several weeks due to their being erased.)

Recent work at MIT and its spin-off subsidiary, Commonwealth Fusion Systems, has resulted in the development of very powerful magnets using high temperature superconductors (HTS).

As a result, there is a possibility that fusion power could be available in ten years, though development could take longer.

Even if fusion power is available in ten or fifteen years, there is a strong probability that natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) power plants will still be more cost effective.

HTS superconductors are made into a cable that is used to make the magnets that contain the plasma. Plasma must be contained in space, so it does not touch any materials in the reactor’s structure. The plasma, at several thousand degrees, would melt or vaporize anything it came in contact with.

Heat from the plasma is drawn away from the fusion reactor and is used to produce steam that drives a turbine generator for generating electricity.

The key to the prospect of fusion power in a decade is the HTS cable, named VIPER for  Vacuum Pressure Impregnated, Insulated, Partially transposed, Extruded, and Roll-formed cable. 

This cable is capable of making magnets around three times more powerful than magnets made currently, such as are being used in the ITER fusion reactor experiment in France, north of Marseilles. ITER is internationally backed, and has been the main program for developing fusion power.

Tests infer that VIPER cable conducts electricity with no resistance or heat generation and will not degrade under extreme mechanical, electrical, and thermal conditions.

The heart of VIPER is a thin steel tape coated with HTS, assembled into a cable where there is a passage for cooling fluid to flow.

There is considerable technology in creating the HTS steel tape, but that’s beyond the scope of this technical update.

As a result of using HTS superconductor VIPER cable, the actual structure of the fusion reactor can be 1/16 the size of the ITER fusion reactor in France while having the same planned output. This reactor is named SPARC.

SPARC schematic with steam turbine power generation

While the SPARC reactor is still very large, see the image of a man in the lower left corner, the building housing ITER is very much larger as shown in the accompanying photograph.

Building housing ITER

While MIT and Commonwealth Fusion Systems are confident they will be able to extract more energy than SPARC consumes, there is still considerable developmental work to be done.

The important takeaway is that Fusion power, with some luck, is closer to being a reality than was assumed only a few months ago.

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4 Replies to “Fusion Soon, Maybe”

  1. Pingback: Weekly Climate and Energy News Roundup #431 | Watts Up With That?

  2. Pingback: Weekly Climate and Energy News Roundup #431 |

  3. Another promising fusion reactor is being developed in Germany at the Max Plank Institute of Plasma Physics. Known as the Wendelstein -7x, it uses the stellarator configuration which will theoretically result in a continuously operating reactor. It relies on precisely shaped superconducting magnets which confine the superheated plasma. Other fusion reactors like ITER and SPARC use the tokamak configuration which has inherent plasma instabilities limiting tokamaks to a less efficient pulsed mode of operation. Details of the Wendelstein reactor are at:

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