WORLD-GEN June/July 2018

WORLD-GEN June/July 2018

WORLD-GENERATION JUNE/JULY 2018 4 CAMBRIDGE, MA - Progress toward the long-sought dream of fusion power — potentially an inexhaustible and zero-car- bon source of energy — could be about to take a dramatic leap forward. Development of this carbon-free, com- bustion-free source of energy is now on a faster track toward realization, thanks to a collaboration between MIT and a new pri- vate company, Commonwealth Fusion Systems. CFS will join with MIT to carry out rapid, staged research leading to a new generation of fusion experiments and power plants based on advances in high- temperature superconductors. CFS announced that it received an investment of $50 million from the Italian energy company Eni. In addition, CFS will fund fusion research at MIT as part of this collaboration, with an ultimate goal of rap- idly commercializing fusion energy and establishing a new industry. “Today is a very important day for us,” says Eni CEO Claudio Descalzi. “Thanks to this agreement, Eni takes a significant step forward toward the development of alternative energy sources with an ever- lower environmental impact. Fusion is the true energy source of the future, as it is completely sustainable, does not release emissions or long-term waste, and is potentially inexhaustible. It is a goal that we are increasingly determined to reach quickly.” “This is an important historical moment: Advances in superconducting magnets have put fusion energy potential- ly within reach, offering the prospect of a safe, carbon-free energy future,” says MIT President L. Rafael Reif. “As humanity confronts the rising risks of climate dis- ruption, I am thrilled that MIT is joining with industrial allies, both longstanding and new, to run full-speed toward this transformative vision for our shared future on Earth.” “Everyone agrees on the eventual impact and the commercial potential of fusion power, but then the question is: How do you get there?” adds Commonwealth Fusion Systems CEO Robert Mumgaard SM ’15, PhD ’15. “We get there by leveraging the science that’s already developed, collaborating with the right partners, and tackling the problems step by step.” SUPERCONDUCTING MAGNETS ARE KEY Fusion, the process that powers the sun and stars, involves light elements, such as hydrogen, smashing together to form heavier elements, such as helium — releasing prodigious amounts of energy in the process. This process produces net energy only at extreme temperatures of hundreds of millions of degrees Celsius, too hot for any solid material to withstand. To get around that, fusion researchers use magnetic fields to hold in place the hot plasma — a kind of gaseous soup of sub- atomic particles — keeping it from coming into contact with any part of the donut- shaped chamber. SPARC The new effort aims to build a compact device capable of generating 100 million watts, or 100 megawatts (MW), of fusion power. This device will, if all goes accord- ing to plan, demonstrate key technical milestones needed to ultimately achieve a full-scale prototype of a fusion power plant that could set the world on a path to low- carbon energy. If widely disseminated, such fusion power plants could meet a sub- stantial fraction of the world’s growing energy needs while drastically curbing the greenhouse gas emissions that are caus- ing global climate change. CFS will support more than $30 mil- lion of MIT research over the next three years through investments by Eni and oth- ers. This work will aim to develop the world’s most powerful large-bore super- conducting electromagnets — the key component that will enable construction of a much more compact version of a fusion device called a tokamak. The magnets, based on a superconducting material that has only recently become available com- mercially, will produce a magnetic field four times as strong as that employed in any existing fusion experiment, enabling a more than tenfold increase in the power produced by a tokamak of a given size. Once the superconducting electromag- nets are developed by researchers at MIT and CFS — expected to occur within three years — MIT and CFS will design and build a compact and powerful fusion experiment, called SPARC, using those magnets. The experiment will be used for what is expected to be a final round of research enabling design of the world’s first commercial power-producing fusion plants. SPARC is designed to produce about 100 MW of heat. While it will not turn that heat into electricity, it will produce, in pulses of about 10 seconds, as much power as is used by a small city. That output would be more than twice the power used to heat the plasma, achiev- ing the ultimate technical milestone: posi- tive net energy from fusion. COVER STORY FASTTRACKTO FUSION POWER BY DAVID L.CHANDLER,MIT (continued page 6) Martin Greenwald, Dennis Whyte, and Zach Hartwig lead MIT researchers teaming up with a newly formed company to launch a new approach to fusion power. Who’s who: L to R: Martin Greenwald, Dan Brunner, Zach Hartwig, Brandon Sorbom, Bob Mumgaard, Dennis Whyte. Image: Bryce Vickmark

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