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In just 15 years, the u.s. will produce unlimited, almost free, totally green energy. Not only would such an energy holy grail mean the end of the human dependence on costly fossil fuels, it would also be a panacea for climate change.
Incredibly, this is not science fiction. In fact, this is a reality as a collaboration between MIT and the Commonwealth Fusion Systems, a private company, is to be believed. The employees announced Friday in the journal Nature that they believe they are on the verge of cracking the code to nuclear fusion — and commercially viable in just 15 years, according to The Guardian.
So far, fusion is a very costly experiment that requires more energy input than the output. However, the employees believe they have found a way to reverse the math. Their system, based on a new class of super high-temperature superconductors and tiny, ultra-powerful magnets, would, for the first time, make sure to use a fusion reaction that outputs more energy than it takes.
Nuclear fusion is the be-all and end-all source of energy, because they are, in theory, is virtually limitless and has almost no downside. It makes no carbon in the atmosphere, such as the burning of fossil fuels or generate radioactive waste like nuclear fission, the technology that is in the current nuclear power plants.
During a fission reaction, radioactive atoms such as uranium, are ripped apart — to produce enormous amounts of energy in addition to nuclear waste.
Fusion, as the name suggests, is exactly the opposite of nuclear fission. Instead of the ripping of atoms from each other, are very abundant atoms like hydrogen are smashed, that the helium and a tremendous amount of energy.
The problem with fusion is always heat. Fusion produces temperatures hotter than the center of the sun, so that solid materials melt, ruining a potential for a power plant.
The employees’ breakthrough came because they were able to make use of a new type of superconductors to produce small, powerful magnets, a key component of the fusion reactors. The magnets create a field in which the fusion reaction in without it touching anything solid, so the solving of the crisis problem.
In the past, it took a lot of energy to the magnets. The new magnets made by the employees, but are smaller and need less energy. This means that, for the first time in their system produces more energy than it consumes.
MIT and the Commonwealth Fusion Systems’ plan is not pure theory — they have raised $50 million from the Italian energy company Eni to actually build a reactor. Their fusion experiment, called Sparc, will produce enough energy to power a small city.
“The aim is to create a working nuclear power plant in the time to fight climate change,” said Bob Mumgaard, CEO of the Commonwealth Fusion Systems. “We think We have the science, the speed and the scale to capture carbon-free fusion power on the grid in 15 years.”
Maria Zuber, MIT’s vice president for research, added, “In the heart of the current news is a great idea — a credible, achievable plans to achieve net positive energy for the merger.
“If we succeed, the world’s energy systems will be transformed. We are very excited about this.”
Not everyone is as buoyantly optimistic about the discovery.
“The exciting part of this is the high-field magnets,” Howard Wilson, a plasma physicist at York University, told The Guardian. “The higher the magnetic field, the more compact you can squeeze the fuel.”
Wilson, however, was not sure how the MIT and the Commonwealth Fusion Systems will be able to hit their 15-year term.
This story was previously published in the New York Post.