MIT tries to reboot stalled nuclear fusion power development

From MIT and the “always 15 years away” department.

MIT and newly formed company launch novel approach to fusion power – Goal is for research to produce a working pilot plant within 15 years.

Visualization of the proposed SPARC Tokamak experiment. Using high-field magnets built with newly available high-temperature superconductors, this experiment would be the first controlled fusion plasma to produce net energy output. Visualization by Ken Filar, PSFC research affiliate

Progress toward the long-sought dream of fusion power — potentially an inexhaustible and zero-carbon source of energy — could be about to take a dramatic leap forward.

Development of this carbon-free, combustion-free source of energy is now on a faster track toward realization, thanks to a collaboration between MIT and a new private 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 — work made possible by decades of federal government funding for basic research.

CFS is announcing today that it has attracted an investment of $50 million in support of this effort from the Italian energy company Eni. In addition, CFS continues to seek the support of additional investors. CFS will fund fusion research at MIT as part of this collaboration, with an ultimate goal of rapidly commercializing fusion energy and establishing a new industry.

“This is an important historical moment: Advances in superconducting magnets have put fusion energy potentially 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 disruption, 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.”

MIT Vice President for Research Maria Zuber, who has written an op-ed on the importance of this news that appears in today’s Boston Globe, notes that MIT’s collaboration with CFS required concerted effort among people and offices at MIT that support innovation: “We are grateful for the MIT team that worked tirelessly to form this collaboration. Associate Provost Karen Gleason’s leadership was instrumental — as was the creativity, diligence, and care of the Office of the General Counsel, the Office of Sponsored Programs, the Technology Licensing Office, and the MIT Energy Initiative. A great job by all.”

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 subatomic particles — keeping it from coming into contact with any part of the donut-shaped chamber.

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 according 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 substantial fraction of the world’s growing energy needs while drastically curbing the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing global climate change.

“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.”

CFS will support more than $30 million of MIT research over the next three years through investments by Eni and others. This work will aim to develop the world’s most powerful large-bore superconducting 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 commercially, 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.

Conceived at PSFC

The project was conceived by researchers from MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center, led by PSFC Director Dennis Whyte, Deputy Director Martin Greenwald, and a team that grew to include representatives from across MIT, involving disciplines from engineering to physics to architecture to economics. The core PSFC team included Mumgaard, Dan Brunner PhD ’13, and Brandon Sorbom PhD ’17 — all now leading CFS — as well as Zach Hartwig PhD ’14, now an assistant professor of nuclear science and engineering at MIT.

Once the superconducting electromagnets 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, achieving the ultimate technical milestone: positive net energy from fusion.

This demonstration would establish that a new power plant of about twice SPARC’s diameter, capable of producing commercially viable net power output, could go ahead toward final design and construction. Such a plant would become the world’s first true fusion power plant, with a capacity of 200 MW of electricity, comparable to that of most modern commercial electric power plants. At that point, its implementation could proceed rapidly and with little risk, and such power plants could be demonstrated within 15 years, say Whyte, Greenwald, and Hartwig.

Complementary to ITER

The project is expected to complement the research planned for a large international collaboration called ITER, currently under construction as the world’s largest fusion experiment at a site in southern France. If successful, ITER is expected to begin producing fusion energy around 2035.

“Fusion is way too important for only one track,” says Greenwald, who is a senior research scientist at PSFC.

By using magnets made from the newly available superconducting material — a steel tape coated with a compound called yttrium-barium-copper oxide (YBCO) — SPARC is designed to produce a fusion power output about a fifth that of ITER, but in a device that is only about 1/65 the volume, Hartwig says. The ultimate benefit of the YBCO tape, he adds, is that it drastically reduces the cost, timeline, and organizational complexity required to build net fusion energy devices, enabling new players and new approaches to fusion energy at university and private company scale.

The way these high-field magnets slash the size of plants needed to achieve a given level of power has repercussions that reverberate through every aspect of the design. Components that would otherwise be so large that they would have to be manufactured on-site could instead be factory-built and trucked in; ancillary systems for cooling and other functions would all be scaled back proportionately; and the total cost and time for design and construction would be drastically reduced.

“What you’re looking for is power production technologies that are going to play nicely within the mix that’s going to be integrated on the grid in 10 to 20 years,” Hartwig says. “The grid right now is moving away from these two- or three-gigawatt monolithic coal or fission power plants. The range of a large fraction of power production facilities in the U.S. is now is in the 100 to 500 megawatt range. Your technology has to be amenable with what sells to compete robustly in a brutal marketplace.”

Because the magnets are the key technology for the new fusion reactor, and because their development carries the greatest uncertainties, Whyte explains, work on the magnets will be the initial three-year phase of the project — building upon the strong foundation of federally funded research conducted at MIT and elsewhere. Once the magnet technology is proven, the next step of designing the SPARC tokamak is based on a relatively straightforward evolution from existing tokamak experiments, he says.

“By putting the magnet development up front,” says Whyte, the Hitachi America Professor of Engineering and head of MIT’s Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering, “we think that this gives you a really solid answer in three years, and gives you a great amount of confidence moving forward that you’re giving yourself the best possible chance of answering the key question, which is: Can you make net energy from a magnetically confined plasma?”

The research project aims to leverage the scientific knowledge and expertise built up over decades of government-funded research — including MIT’s work, from 1971 to 2016, with its Alcator C-Mod experiment, as well as its predecessors — in combination with the intensity of a well-funded startup company. Whyte, Greenwald, and Hartwig say that this approach could greatly shorten the time to bring fusion technology to the marketplace — while there’s still time for fusion to make a real difference in climate change.

MITEI participation

Commonwealth Fusion Systems is a private company and will join the MIT Energy Initiative(MITEI) as part of a new university-industry partnership built to carry out this plan. The collaboration between MITEI and CFS is expected to bolster MIT research and teaching on the science of fusion, while at the same time building a strong industrial partner that ultimately could be positioned to bring fusion power to real-world use.

“MITEI has created a new membership specifically for energy startups, and CFS is the first company to become a member through this new program,” says MITEI Director Robert Armstrong, the Chevron Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT. “In addition to providing access to the significant resources and capabilities of the Institute, the membership is designed to expose startups to incumbent energy companies and their vast knowledge of the energy system. It was through their engagement with MITEI that Eni, one of MITEI’s founding members, became aware of SPARC’s tremendous potential for revolutionizing the energy system.”

Energy startups often require significant research funding to further their technology to the point where new clean energy solutions can be brought to market. Traditional forms of early-stage funding are often incompatible with the long lead times and capital intensity that are well-known to energy investors.

“Because of the nature of the conditions required to produce fusion reactions, you have to start at scale,” Greenwald says. “That’s why this kind of academic-industry collaboration was essential to enable the technology to move forward quickly. This is not like three engineers building a new app in a garage.”

Most of the initial round of funding from CFS will support collaborative research and development at MIT to demonstrate the new superconducting magnets.  The team is confident that the magnets can be successfully developed to meet the needs of the task. Still, Greenwald adds, “that doesn’t mean it’s a trivial task,” and it will require substantial work by a large team of researchers. But, he points out, others have built magnets using this material, for other purposes, which had twice the magnetic field strength that will be required for this reactor. Though these high-field magnets were small, they do validate the basic feasibility of the concept.

In addition to its support of CFS, Eni has also announced an agreement with MITEI to fund fusion research projects run out of PSFC’s Laboratory for Innovation in Fusion Technologies. The expected investment in these research projects amounts to about $2 million in the coming years.

“Conservative physics”

SPARC is an evolution of a tokamak design that has been studied and refined for decades. This included work at MIT that began in the 1970s, led by professors Bruno Coppi and Ron Parker, who developed the kind of high-magnetic-field fusion experiments that have been operated at MIT ever since, setting numerous fusion records.

“Our strategy is to use conservative physics, based on decades of work at MIT and elsewhere,” Greenwald says. “If SPARC does achieve its expected performance, my sense is that’s sort of a Kitty Hawk moment for fusion, by robustly demonstrating net power, in a device that scales to a real power plant.”

192 thoughts on “MIT tries to reboot stalled nuclear fusion power development

  1. Come on, Anthony. This major progress. They have gone from 30 years out, to only 15 years out.
    From “someday”, to by-and-by.

    • Incremental “enabling” technology is what this path is called. And it is incremental in short steps, until suddenly a materials breakthrough (or similar) is made. There are many such projects that would be possible if we could find the right material with which to make them. Progress is progress.
      Do you have a faster idea?
      I suppose the spectators jeered at the tortoise as well…

      • The E-cat is a fraud. Junk science of the worst kind. We’ve covered it several times, and it’s failure lies mainly with it’s inventor’s unverifiable claims.

      • rocketscientist
        I don’t have a faster idea, but I probably have a better “marketing” idea: STOP CLAIMING SUCCESS IS 15 YEARS AWAY. Nothing says incompetence like fifty years of being “15-20 years away”.
        This broken record on this obviously incorrect prediction is beginning to look like the same inaccurate expectations management crap around taxpayer-funded AGW stuff.
        Even evangelical-but-ignorant believers are beginning to lose faith in never-ending delays in end-of-the-world AGW.

      • Far too much banging on about “carbon-free” going on here. They have just worked out that it is a good way to ensure funding for something they wanted to work on anyway.
        Oh, did I mention it’s the key to a “safe future ” for our entire planet. Has to be worth the massive sums we need. PS, it’s carbon free.

      • Funny…just heard this joke yesterday:
        A nuclear physicist dies and goes to heaven. As he’s escorted through the Pearly Gates, St. Peter informs him that he gets one question to ask God. So, as they approach the divine throne, the man thinks of his perfect question: “God,” he asks, “Will mankind ever achieve fusion power?”
        To the surprise of all who attended Him in the heavenly throne room, God paused before replying…
        Finally, His divine countenance drooping with resignation, God replied, “Not in my lifetime.”


      • @rocketscientist: Incremental short steps is smart provide you are not traveling down a dead end. The entire concept of a tokomak is a commercial dead end because it precludes a continuous fire. Show me how it can create a steady supply of electricity in any future design.

      • Am I remembering wrong? I thought the major hurdles in fusion power were how to remove the fusion byproducts so that the burn can be sustained, and how to prevent damage and brittlement from high energy neutrons.
        Their big tech in this seams like just a way to shrink down a design that hasn’t worked yet.

    • Yes… Fusion always seem to be right around the second-next corner. I suspect there is something fundamentally wrong with the current approach to fusion, like in cancer research (little progress despite billions $ spent).

      • You wouldn’t say that if you were me, completely cured of a cancer that was 80% mortality rate until around 1998.
        Now 97% completely curable

      • They have made great strides in curing cancer. But, mostly not with the magic bullet they all sought, but with heavy duty metabolic poisons or simply earlier diagnosis and earlier surgery.
        It would be like promising fusion energy but building a lot of fission plants instead.

    • It’s hot fool-were you born on the Sun? Probably shouldn’t say dedicated scientists can’t do something, especially when that something has such great potential. I regularly amaze people with my rare earth magnet, you can’t pull it off anything iron. Keeping the fusion process together seems to be the key and containment magnetic fields appear to offer the best answer. But who know where this ends up? NO, I am not selling uranium future short just yet.

  2. Discussed in essay Going Nuclear in ebook Blowing Smoke. A small excerpt quoting Nobel laureate French physicist de Gennes:
    “We say that we will put the sun into a box. The idea is pretty. The problem is, we don’t know how to make the box.”
    In this case, or even how to make the superduper superconducting electromagnets for the box.

    • Putting the sun in a box is not good enough as the sun produces 276 W/m3 (or 1.7 mW/kg) in its core. A human body in rest produces ~1 W/kg.
      It is more like putting a super nova in a box.

      • “the sun produces 276 W/m3 (or 1.7 mW/kg) in its core. (emphasis mine)
        Not true. Your numbers for W/m3 and mW/kg is for the ENTIRE sun, not for it’s “core.” These numbers are calculated using the entire volume and mass of the sun. The vast majority of the volume of the sun is not undergoing fusion, so the W/m3 is different in the “core” versus the surface.

  3. This looks promising, but to repeat the cliche, fusion power has been 15 years away for the past 60 years, or is it 70 years?

    • But just think — the tipping point for global warming is now 15 years off into the future when nuclear fusion will save the day!:
      “Whyte, Greenwald, and Hartwig say that this approach could greatly shorten the time to bring fusion technology to the marketplace — while there’s still time for fusion to make a real difference in climate change.”

      • Agreed. All renewable energy projects can now be canceled, cos MIT says we’ll have fusion electricity production in 15 years.

      • Mr. noaaprogrammer, I think you have hit upon the answer! When the warmests tell me to cut back on petroleum use, I will tell them it is okay because by the time my gasoline start to ruin the climate fusion power will be here and save us.
        Now fire up the old Chevelle SS 396, we’re going for a ride.

      • “All renewable energy projects can now be canceled, cos MIT says we’ll have fusion electricity production in 15 years.”
        Right conclusion wrong premise. All “renewable energy” projects can now be cancelled because they will never yield economic or dispatchable energy.

        • That’s been Renewable Energy’s problem since Day One. It’s to costly and not enough of them to make a Dent in our demand for Electricity!

  4. Apparently some nuclear scientists at MIT don’t know what other nuclear scientists are doing at MIT. MIT is involved closelywith the Transatomic Power Company, which is but one of roughly a dozen companies and countries involved in developing molten salt nuclear reactors,which are certainly going to be the next nuclear power technology , one that is cheaper than all other power generation technologies , inherently safe, and has an inexhaustible supply of uranium/Thorium as fuel.

    • Fusion is way too important for only one track, …

      Atomic energy is way too important for only one track. If Thorium was real easy to do commercially, it would already be done. It’s good that there are a number of projects going on.

      • The barrier cost is getting a license from the government for a commercial design. Once government gets serious and develops a licensing procedure for a liquid salt fission reactor, projects will proceed. The technology was demonstrated by the Air Force over 40 years ago.

      • Is it good though?
        I think not. ANY one of the potential reactors under research could be made to work, and made to work pretty well.
        We should rather pick one, and develop it – even if its not the best – to a plug and play mass produced solution.
        Oh, and nuclear fusion that produces high energy neutrons will produce nasty radioactive waste

      • The problem with the Thorium-salt reactors is that they require continuous reprocessing of the molten, intensely radioactive salt in parallel with the running of the reactor. I’ve read that a continuously running Type 2 LTFR needs 10% of it’s core reprocessed each day to remove reactor poisons and breeder elements. This is the engineering that hasn’t been solved, yet, I think.

      • The problem with the Thorium-salt reactors is that they require continuous reprocessing of the molten, intensely radioactive salt in parallel with the running of the reactor. I’ve read that a continuously running Type 2 LTFR needs 10% of it’s core reprocessed each day to remove reactor poisons and breeder elements. This is the engineering that hasn’t been solved, yet, I think.

        No they don’t. If you want an efficient neutron economy and the smallest fissile inventory you want to reprocess the fuel, but you can run a single salt MSR with Thorium. Regardless, you can run an MSR with normal LEU fuel today and with its significantly higher burn up we have sufficient fuel to last a long, long time.

      • Agreed, Stephen Rasey. Continuous separations is required to remove the byproducts, as they will interfere with moderation of the reactor.

      • Agreed, Stephen Rasey. Continuous separations is required to remove the byproducts, as they will interfere with moderation of the reactor.

        No, they don’t. They scavenge neutrons which can make the reaction go subcritical. That’s why you need a higher fissile load if you’re going to run a single salt (or 1.5 salt) design.The other by products like Xe can be sparged off without any chemical processing.

    • Totally agree arthur4563:
      I’ m not against the fusion efforts; but meanwhile let’s get pragmatic and get on with the molten salt reactor technology. Seems there is good potential there.
      I am no expert but Robert Hargreaves book: “ Thorium energy cheaper than coal” is a fascinating read.

      • Lets get on with even a simple Boiling water uranium reactor!
        All this emphasis on high tech is just mental masturbation. WE want a reliable safe pot of water boiled by lots of uranium rods, hooked up to a standard turbine, cheap cheerful and safe enough.
        We dont want a Ferrari, we wand a Ford Mondeo*
        * a UK car that outsold millions and was so boring it even led to the phrase ‘Mondeo Man’ the average dull stupid home counties voter. The North American models were marketed as the Ford Contour and Mercury Mystique until 2000, and as the Ford Fusion from 2013 onwards. It is one of the most boring cars I have ever driven, utterly soulless, but it had one of the lowest lifetime costs and was the fleet car of choice for years.

        • I get your point Leo; but I don’t think Molton Salt Reactors are particularly boring.
          What is boring are all those people who freak out the moment the word nuclear is mentioned.
          Never had a Mondeo. Got a boring old 1987 Merc. now. Boringly reliable! Barely run in. Only got 165,000 on the clock. My last Merc clocked 859,000 before the rust got it.
          I now fancy a mini molten salt car built like a tank. — 0 to 60 in 4 seconds.

      • No we don’t. Solid core reactors using water as a moderator and coolant are a terrible design. They are guaranteed to be inefficient and expensive because 1) you have to have a massive containment vessel to hold all of that water that wants to flash to steam, and 2) solid fuel rods deform into uselessness well before you even get to 10% burnup. The latter means that you either have to reprocess the fuel (expensive), or throw it away (also expensive). How about we don’t limit ourselves to the steam age?

    • “which is but one of roughly a dozen companies and countries involved in developing molten salt nuclear reactors,which are certainly going to be the next nuclear power technology”
      Another one that has been just around the corner for 60 years.

    • “They scavenge neutrons which can make the reaction go subcritical.”
      Sounds like interference with moderation to me.

    • Tri Alpha has another advantage. That is, no neutrons as the reaction yields 3 alpha particles as an ash, hence the name.

      • Fusion can never work unless there is no neutron radiation as a by-product.
        Only a big Sun or a black hole or a neutron star is capable of holding in the neutron radiation that results from most fusion energy proposals. Basically, the reactor container will disintegrate within 20 seconds unless there is no neutron radiation by-product. Unfortunately, the scientists involved in all these proposals keep this problem out of the public information sources. Their proposals will NEVER work but they will suck up a LOT of money and salaries in the multi-decades it will take before they admit this problem exists.

      • B11+p (which is what Tri Alpha claims to be experimenting with) is a stone bitch to ignite. if we can’t get a self-sustaining D+T plasma going….

  5. We should have a poll. Which gets electricity to the grid first and best (In Your Humble Opinion) LFTR or Fusion?
    I’ll cast my vote for the first one.

      • I half agree. Its a viable technology – no doubt about it, but its not a a magic bullet, and it doesn’t solve all the problems. It introduces new problems instead.
        And really there is nothing wrong with existing technology.
        I actually do not care what reactor technology gets built as long as its cheap enough and safe enough, and any modern reactor is all of that.
        Or would be if it didn’t have to meet such ridiculous regulatory standards.

      • “And why would you suggest that it is nonsense?”
        Thorium is fertile – not fissile. A thorium reactor is preposterous. Ignorant.
        Thorium, if bred in a uranium or plutonium reactor, solves no problem, nor provides any economic benefit. It is a dream that justifiably died in the 1960s.

      • “And why would you suggest that it is nonsense?”
        Thorium is fertile – not fissile. A thorium reactor is preposterous. Ignorant.

        Well there certainly is a lot of ignorance here. There’s no reason you can’t run a Thorium converter, but more importantly you can burn good old 235U and 239Pu in an MSR just fine. And we have plentiful supplies for at least decades if not centuries before we need to explore breeding.

      • “MSR and thorium are two different subjects.”
        You seem to understand neither. There’s nothing “preposterous” about breeders as a concept. Solid fuel Thorium is probably unattractive, but solid fuel anything is already disadvantaged.

      • ‘You seem to understand neither. There’s nothing “preposterous” about breeders as a concept.’
        Splain why it was abandoned 40 years ago?
        I’ll save you the trouble. The breeding concept was born of the expense and rarity of uranium. By the 1970s, it was found that uranium was neither rare nor expensive. Thorium solves no problem.
        ‘Solid fuel Thorium is probably unattractive, but solid fuel anything is already disadvantaged.’
        ‘Solid fuel Thorium’ is nonsense. See above.
        Centuries out, solid target thorium breeding may come into it’s own, but it is just a footnote in the history of nuclear physics.
        The use of solid fuel is ubiquitous. Your declaration is false on its face. When the molten salt reactor business is going, and we’ve been waiting for 50 years, get back to us. Until then, you are making assertions on the come.

  6. “… drastically curbing the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing global climate change.”
    It’s an embarrassment to science that this kind of statement would come from someone associated with MIT.
    The motivation should not be climate change, but that we will eventually run out of oil.

    • You are correct it is embarrassing that a university like MIT would make a statement like that.
      At the same time, it is embarrassing that someone who thinks they understand energy production would (1) think oil has much of anything to do with the production of electricity (which is what fusion would be used to produce) and (2) think we are going to run out of oil in any time horizon that should be a concern for people living today.

      • Patrick,
        Fossil fuels are an important source of energy of which electricity is the most useful form, especially going forward. Transportation is the largest user of fossil fuels today, but this will necessarily change in the future.
        While we will not run out of fossil fuels any time soon, at the rate fusion is progressing, it may not be feasible until we are close to running out, moreover; we will need
        what oil is left as the raw materials for other products, for example, plastics and more industrial chemicals than you can think of.
        Just because something will not occur within your lifetime doesn’t mean it’s not important. My primary point was that running out of fossil fuels has a 100% chance of eventually occurring, while catastrophic climate change arising from CO2 emissions has a 0% chance of ever occurring.

    • We got several hundred years of oil, several thousand years of coal, and several hundred thousand years of nuclear.
      I’m not going to panic any time soon.

      • You are out by an order of magnitude
        We have several decades of oil and gas, a hundred years or so of coal and less than 10,000 years of fertile and fissile nuclear material.

      • Alan,
        We will not run out of oil in your lifetime, but that certainly doesn’t mean running out won’t be important to the future. Fusion is the only viable, long term replacement for fossil fuel generated energy, and will be needed unless you think humanity will become extinct in the next century or so. Again, my point was that obsessing about CO2 emissions is the wrong rationalization for developing fusion.

  7. Just give me my Mr. Fusion.
    I’ve waited long enough.
    Unmetered electricity was promised in the 50s.

    • It’s also likely that, about 15 to 20 years from now, we will have a prototype time travel chamber that will allow us to acquire a Mr. Fusion from the future, and bring it back to the (then) present.
      So, it doesn’t really matter if the projected MIT time frame works out.

      • But if they bring it back to the (then) present, there would seem to be no problem with bringing it back to our (now) present.

      • … regardless … it’s still 15 years out.
        (when my daughter was about 3 or 4 she asked why, when driving, we never got TO the fog. It always seemed to be that same distance away. “Why do we never get to it?” It is very difficult to explain optics to a 4 year old.)
        You need to find a certified Time Lord to explain that part of it to you.

  8. “As humanity confronts the rising risks of climate disruption”
    They just had to get in the obligatory mention of climate change. UGH!!

  9. Heartening to see that they decided to expand collaboration in MIT to include engineers and physicists. I guess it was these two troublemaker disciplines that queered up early work. Nowadays in post normal times they tend to bring in social scientists early on and ensure diversity is front and centre. /sarc

    • I note they waxed strongly on saving the planet from carbonitis. Being duped on this at the outset doesn’t inspire the confidence that they exude about the foregone conclusion of this research. If I put out a press release of this tenor on a mining exploration project (which has a higher likelihood of success) I could find myself in jail for malpractice in my field.

  10. Hmmmmmm…….
    way too much attention on the legal and commercial structures, and way too many assumptions that *this time* the results will result in something different than the >50 years of disappointing results to date. That said, I wish the effort great success.

  11. I’ve often wondered how one could harness fusion power by using magnets that required LESS energy than was being generated.
    Never had a plausible explanation.

  12. The title and lead in of this article is unfair. Note that the MIT’s Alcator C-Mod tokamak fusion project at MIT was ongoing for many years and as it was beginning to achieve experimental success at achieving its scientific goals and then the DOE pulled its funding forcing the Alcator to be shut down. The new concept is based on Dr. Dennis Whyte’s concepts of a compact spherical tokamak reactor not unlike that of the Tokamak Energy Company in the UK. Note that the DOE has cut virtually all fusion related funding in the U.S. except that which is “work in kind” for the ITER project in France and that has been cut in half of last year’s budget. The reason fusion is always 15 years away is that there is still much experimental science to be done which is very expensive and our government is not supporting it and it is too risky for the private sector to support at meaningful levels. A few private companies with truly innovative approaches such as Tri Alpha Energy (TAE) in Southern California and General Fusion in Vancouver, Canada have been successful at raising a few hundred million dollars; in TAE’s case close to $500 million. Having said that, the TAE approach uses a Field Reverse Configuration which has inherent losses and they propose to use an aneutronic fuel cycle of P 11Boron which is roughly 4 orders of magnitude more difficult to “make fuse” due to the cross sectional diameters involved than deuterium – tritium. TAE in all probability is a financial disaster in the making which means another black eye for fusion progress. On the other hand General Fusion is using a deuterium tritium fuel cycle to prove (hopefully) that they can achieve net energy gain controlled fusion and will address aneutronic fuel cycles later. For more on fusion see our fusion website which has become “The world’s most comprehensive Fusion Energy website for fusion & plasma science, research, project management, academic journal articles, videos, fusion politics, news, and advocacy” at:

    • A chemical engineer working in his garage will perfect the science in the year 2200.

  13. I did my doctoral thesis in the late 1970s on a fusion-related topic. At the time, fusion was being pushed as the solution to the energy problem: oil boycotts and rising prices. After I had my degree and job safely in hand, I asked a couple of the profs whether they really believed that. Everyone said that was what the DOE told Congress to get funding, and so that is what would be said. One, not my advisor, said that he was trying to do good science without admitting it. I do wonder whether there is at least some of this going on today where CGW is invoked by people who have no excuse not to know better.

    • There are lots of jobs programs that are merely self-licking ice cream cones (SLICC’s). They exist for their own benefit and what they produce is just to continue to justify their own funding. These are things that President Eisenhower warned about. They then get Congressional support for the lucrative jobs and tax funding they bring to Congressional districts.
      NASA is probably the biggest offender and has the most of these kinds of SLICC’s, one the bigger of which being a manned Mars mission. (it’ll never happen, yet way too many high paying engineering jobs in ogvernment and industry are at stake if they admit that publicly).
      DoE no doubt has many SLICC’s too, with its various fusion projects and its ARPA-E renewables initiatives. The Trump Admin has proposed killing DOE’s ARPA program, but vested interests in Congress will likely mandate its continuation as those a job programs with Congressional support.

      • I wonder that some clever entity needs really powerful compact magnets for a totally unrelated purpose and is using fusion as a ruse to get the R&D done at someone else’s expense.
        Hot neutrons really don’t care how strong the magnetic field is or whose nucleus they call home.

  14. “If widely disseminated, such fusion power plants could meet a substantial fraction of the world’s growing energy needs while drastically curbing the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing global climate change.”
    I realize there is a lot of public funding going into all of this, but why do they always have to state that GHG’s are what is causing climate change? It’s a rhetorical question…I already know the answer to this, but it bugs me that this sort of thing is always mentioned as a matter of fact, when we know the (climate) science is definitely not settled 100%.
    Makes me wonder if they have drunk that kool-aid about AGW/CC, that they are perhaps also a little bit jaundiced when it comes to what seems like a never ending promise of practical Fusion energy in just 15 more years. Or is this just the never ending ploy to get a never ending stream of grant monies, similar to the climate fr@ud that has been shoved down our throats.
    I would have thought 30-40 years ago that Fusion would already been a reality, and we would have been walking on Mars already, had a flying car, or had a phone in my shoe.

    • In addition, I am also suspicious whenever the CAGW mantra is trotted out, whether they have, or are intending to factor that into the cost. So, “yeah, it will cost about 1/3 more of coal or NG-fired plants, but see, no carbon!”

    • Earthly fusion was achieved in the early 1950’s. The Teller-Ulam fusion design is quite successful in achieving very large quantities of energy release from a Li-6 deuteride fuel source.

        It sure was Joel, as in KaBoom…a thermonuclear fusion bomb first detonated on Nov 1st/52. Harnessing that into practical energy, preferably electricity, is another matter. I would have really thought that more progress would have been made by now on the fusion to electron front, but perhaps it is the secrecy involved around the fusion process itself as a closely guarded secret by a handful of nations, including in the USA where it is still Highly Classified. Perhaps that is an impediment to civilian research, because we don’t want that cat out of the bag until we have a politically stable planet.

      • From the article: “…while there’s still time for fusion to make a real difference in climate change.”
        8 or 10 of those grouped relatively close together might make a short term real difference in climate change.

  15. I wonder how much money the world has spent on fusion research to date. I have the feeling that “success in 15 years” will be its perpetual state.

  16. hmmmmmmm
    “This process produces net energy only at extreme temperatures of hundreds of millions of degrees Celsius, too hot for any solid material to withstand.”
    I’m not a Solar expert but “hundreds of millions of degrees Celsius” seems a bit too high….. isn’t the core of the Sun estimated to be around 10-15 million degrees Celsius?

  17. Too lazy to look it up…
    Does anyone even know how to design and build a way to transfer the heat from the magnetically held fusion reaction to the water that would be used to make steam?

    • I guess it would be via some sort of coolant in a jacket that surrounds the magnets so that the magnets don’t melt.

      • I suspect you’re making a joke, or there is something that needs to be explained to me. YCBO functions as a superconductor at temperatures below -180C. Warming that coolant for energy transfer – and then cooling it enough to keep the superconductors working would be a net loss of energy I would think.

    • By removing and using the fusion products at that temperature? Injecting the next portion of fuel (which is and must be very very cold, no matter how you prepare it) also seems not to be trivial.

  18. So far fusion has been like Socialism. Nothing but failures but this time they’ll get it right. I do wish them luck though.

  19. No where in this article is mentioned the “flux capacitor”, which we all know must be in the mix for this to even have a snowballs chance to succeed. Looks like someone duped someone out of millions of dollars.
    Maybe Dr. Emmett Brown will see fit to come back from the future and help the boys and girls at MIT along.

  20. It’s been a while since I paid close attention, but I thought the conclusion was that Tokamak-type designs were inherently too “leaky” because of the confinement design and not much could be done about it.

    • Depends. ITER is just a really large tokomak. Theory is that if big enough the plasma wont pinch. Have no idea if theory is correct. Pretty sure the $20 billion and two decades will prove to have been a waste of time and money even if a technical sucess. Too costly, to low an EREI.

  21. All of this to Boil Water to run a Turbine to make Electricity ! I thought that the Reactor could produce a Magnetic field from within and produce enough EMF that would be self sustained and wouldn’t require Steam to drive the Generator’s . I guess I was wrong!

    • You were not wrong! Direct electrical generation without turbines is built into the LPPFusion reactor design. There is a short video explaining this on the cover page of LPPFusion… The reactor generates an ion beam that runs through alternating magnetic coils that generate electric current… thus the production of super low-cost electric power.

      • There are beautiful videos showing how the California Bullet Train seeds prosperity and growth around all stations. We need to connect Madera to Bakersfield real soon.

      • Curious George: You seem to think magnetic induction is a wild hypothesis for generating electric current… please return to Jr High… they’ll explain how it works.

        • Wow, I didn’t know that! The ones in Europe are going to convert the Heat generated to , You guess it, Make Steam. Thanks for the Information.

      • Curious and MarkW… Having already hit two of three Lawson Criteria for achieving fusion ignition should whet your appetite. If you bother to follow the posted videos, you might understand how close LPPFusion is to hitting the final target of net fusion this year or early next. The barriers to success are not insurmountable. LPPFusion posts regular updates… so join their mailing list of follow yourself. This should satisfy your curiosity with a ringside seat.

  22. From the article: “…while there’s still time for fusion to make a real difference in climate change.” Take all the time you want, because it will not make any difference to the climate, as carbon dioxide has little to do with it, and what little it might do can never be untangled from natural trends. Don’t get me wrong. Especially to the extent that private money is involved here, advancement in controllable fusion is welcome, even if only to keep focused on the idea of power plants that run on calm days and in the dark to produce reliable electricity for the good of all.

    • I would not relate my knowledge from such dubious sides:
      “The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Engages Science Leaders, Policy Makers, and the Emerging Technologies.” Doomsday Clock, public-access With a smart, vigorous prose, multimedia presentations, and information graphics, the Bulletin puts issues and fact into context and provides fact-based debates and assessments. For more than 70 years, the Bulletin has bridged the technology divide between scientific research, foreign policy, and public engagement. ”
      These are anything but nuclear energy scientists, more alarmists at its best.

  23. While only talking and planning is going on elsewhere, Iter’s tomakak complex, the heart of the complex, is slowly taking shape. From these pictures it becomes clear that the system is not a dollhouse and that it is a huge scale. A nuclear fission power plant is not bigger either.
    Incidentally, the magnetic coils for the tomakak are being developed at KIT in Karlsruhe, near where I live.

  24. Tokomaks are a dead end… gigantic ones (ITER)… small ones (MIT) … doesn’t matter.
    The real action in fusion are alternative configurations such as Dense Plasma Focus at LPPFusion in Middlesex, NJ. This micro company has already hit two of three criteria for achieving fusion. Unlike the tokomaks, its design is aneutronic, operating at 3 B degrees C.
    With a development budget of only $6 M, the LPPFusion reactor (FF-1) is now in the final experimental phase of development, leading the way to loading in the pB11 fuel later this year.
    Fusion Leader Board:
    The LPP Fusion reactor (FF-1) is currently #5on the fusion output leader board.
    How it works

    Reaching ignition

    Complete Album of Videos
    Device video:

    BTW: Here’s what Prof. Bruno Coppi said about LPPFusion

      • The MIT initiative is a smaller tokomak using superconducting magnets.
        But note: “In contrast, the private fusion companies are smaller, nimbler, and learn by iterating quickly. This approach, coupled with private funding, provides driving pressure to move as quickly and efficiently as possible to commercialize fusion. Their universal challenge, however, is that their fusion concepts are based on unproven physics that, at best, may require a long time and extensive resources to prove the science and, at worst, may be unable to scale to the performance required for a fusion power plant.”
        The underlying concepts of Dense Plasma Focus (DPF) are not highly mysterious and exotic. The demo videos above show the behavior of stable and predictable. The reactor design is quite simple and amenable to rapid commercialization.

    • thank you sarasastro
      I was astonished how many comments filled this post’s thread before someone stepped up and pointed out the obvious – DPF.
      And beyond being aneutronic, also requires no boilers, pressure vessels, etc. Direct conversion into electrical current.
      And doesn’t attempt to “capture” or “contain” plasma, but rather respects plasma’s natural “expressions”. (not, of course, a scientific term)
      Why not better financed? Follow the Money: – Pretty hard to ‘control’ an energy source that will ultimately fit on the back of a big pickup truck and power entire neighbourhoods/towns.

      • d.Tiburon: LPPFusion welcomes investors as long as the company’s independence is assure Given the possibility of virtually limitless energy production at least 10 times cheaper than current rates, every rent seeking monopolist will want to get his hands on LPPFusion technology and pocket 95% of the savings for themselves.
        Thus the crowd funding… but again, large investors are welcome if they simply want to reap the rewards of a mega-disruptive technology that can be implemented and leave it at that.
        In any case, the final experimental phase can proceed apace without massive cash infusions and decades of development… this is doable a near-term, project. I’m bullish.

      • Tiburon: LPPFusion welcomes investors as long as the company’s independence is assured. Given the possibility of virtually limitless energy production at least 10 times cheaper than current rates, every rent seeking monopolist will want to get his hands on LPPFusion technology and pocket 99% of the savings for themselves.
        Thus the crowd funding… but again, large investors are welcome if they simply want to reap the rewards of a mega-disruptive technology that can be implemented and leave it at that.
        In any case, the final experimental phase can proceed apace without massive cash infusions and decades of development… this is doable a near-term, project. I’m bullish.

    • Been watching LPPF for several years. Seem like sincere people but there always seems to be fly in the ointment that “poisons” the plasma. I lost confidence in the players when they obtained their holy grail tungsten electrode from Wang’s Chinese Discount Electrode Shoppe and it turned out to be a POS.
      If the process is that fragile, it’s doubtful that it will ever be a serious contender.

    • The proton-boron fusion occurs at 6 billion degrees Kelvin. Without magnetic confinement, the large-scale version of this process will vaporize the electrodes and the container.

  25. “Could be about to take…..” is all I needed to see to know it ain’t going to happen in the time frame stated.

  26. You’d think they would first get a single fusion reaction before telling us about how close it is till we can harness the power. Metals, burning oil, rubber, were all known years before it was combined in what we now call a car. Perhaps fusion is possible, perhaps it is not. Let’s tackle that first step first.

  27. Natural gas is a bridge fuel to fusion power not renewables. It’s time people recognize that if there is a CO2 climate problem fusion power will resolve it before any significant impacts.

    • We already have fission. There is no need to worry. And we have enough fossil fuels for a very long time yet.

  28. The THOR reactor in Norway is the bridge and we should go that route to burn our current nuclear waste

  29. rambling…..
    Haven’t they set an impossible task with this magnetic bottle idea – that plasma stuff is just far too slippery
    And they’re walking into the problem all nukes have is that of a huge store of potential energy that *could* release uncontrollably and suddenly. Scares the living bejeezuz out of plant eaters and other chronic depressives. Arguably, quite rightly.
    Why not go along the lines of creating a series of tiny hydrogen bombs with some sort of thermal buffer/store to average out the ‘blasts’
    Aren’t some folks doing that with lasers?
    If hydrogen has a propensity to ‘stick together’ into helium etc etc then basically it is burning innit?
    It likes to burn, it is ‘flammable’
    So, and the clue is ‘100’s of millions’ of temperature, all we need is a hot enough ‘match’ or ‘spark’ and the stuff will burn, even at moderate sorts of pressures.
    We have the principle of that already – under the hood/bonnet of almost every motor car ever made.
    Tiny blasts averaged out by a mechanical contrivance and the average temperature is not high enough to melt the machine
    How hot are gamma rays maybe
    if we got a laser with a wavelength of 0.1 Angstroms wavelength, I get that to be nearly 300 Million deg C
    How big are X-rays, they’re measured in Angstroms usually.
    There it is, a modified internal combustion engine with a laser spark plug producing X-ray sparks.
    What we waiting for?
    Late thort before hitting Post= Maybe those folks with their ‘hydrogen technology’ are actually on to something!!!!!

    • I think the approach you’re talking about is being worked at Laurence Livermore Labs – set of high powered lasers surrounding a spherical chamber into which a heavy hydrogen “pill” is introduced. Lasers fire simultaneously from all sides to compress the hydrogen pill, and thereby raise its temperature to the fusion point – result is burst of energy, and introduction of a fresh pill. Sort of like a rich man’s pellet stove. Last time I looked, they had got it sort of working – were producing energy, just not enough or sustainable enough, but promising.

  30. It’s a long shot but it might just work.
    That thought has been funding this idea for decades.
    But if it ever is going to work then new materials will be the key to the breakthrough.

    • We already have fission. There is no need to worry. And we have enough fossil fuels for a very long time yet.

      • Going nowhere fast. Too bad. Electrostatic confinement fixes so many of the problems (it’s not thermal!!!), just not enough.

  31. The problems haven’t changed in over 35 years of effort.
    1) How do you get the energy out in useful way?
    2) How do you get the waste product (Helium) out?
    3) How do you get new fuel (heavy Hydrogen) in?
    4) How do you do all that and maintain the fusion reaction?

    • More like 55 years – see my note below. Also, note that their short term answer to the “in and out” dilemma is 10 second “pulses”. Presumably they do cleanup in between.
      However, I note they project that it produces twice as much energy as was put in, maybe 4x in the production versions. That implies that they need 100MW input to get 200MW out – exactly where do they get 100MW of energy? Do they need that kind of input every 10 seconds to restart the reaction? If so, they better build this pretty close to a real power plant – not going to get that out of a plug in the wall…

      • I’m going to go out on a limb and say; 10 second “pulses” will never make a practical commercial power source, it needs to be continuous like the Sun. Don’t get me wrong, I just want to hear a proposal to overcome the problems I’ve listed before we spend another few billion dollars on fusion.

      • I agree with you about the 10 second problem. The real secret is a sustained plasma that doesn’t have to be restarted/reheated. Then the net power in vs. power out can scale. if you have to keep giving it 100 MW bursts to restart the reaction, and you get 200 MW out (net of 100 MW, then why not just build the 100MW “feeder” power source and tap into that, and not bother with the complex machine that nets no additional power. Now of course, if they can get 4X, then it starts to make sense. Otherwise, they could always put multiple units together, enough out of the 10 second phase to deliver continuous power to keep all of them going and still produce some power to send to the grid.
        Frankly, wouldn’t it be a better use of resources to work on perfecting molten salt thorium reactors, a technology we know can be made to work in a lot less time than this, and which eats it’s own waste?

      • I’m going to go out on a limb and say; 10 second “pulses” will never make a practical commercial power source,

        So you don’t think cars work then…?

      • Frankly, wouldn’t it be a better use of resources to work on perfecting molten salt thorium reactors,

        We don’t need Thorium for a long time. Uranium is a better fuel for the foreseeable future.

  32. I don’t understand what the grumbling is all about. There is no such thing as instant success when you’re trying to develop something like this. Thomas Edison’s efforts to develop a storage battery involved over 10,000 different kinds of materials.
    From the article, it seems to me that commercial/private funding has been made available. So that gurmping about funding sources doesn’t wash. Do you have any idea how many failures there were in trying to develop the first controlled nuclear chain reaction?
    There is no instant success in such things, never will be. They may be overly optimistic about the length of time, or it could happen sooner, too. At least they’re trying to get there.
    So, what was the beef about fusion reactors, again?

    • Salute!
      Not so fast Sara!
      The bomb project started late 1941 and more seriously during 1942, About the time I was born Fermi had his reactor working in Chicago and another year saw other reactors and we started making plutonium in Washington and other places. The “weapons grade uranium” was not required much after 1944, as it was tooeasy to make the plutonium.
      Such terrible times, but at least many of us did not have to learn a new language.
      I cannot see the fusion effort advancing at even one-fiftieth the pace we saw with fission. It could well be that getting something very small to work is the key, then makre lot to work in paralell.
      I can still dream, huh?
      Gums opines…

  33. Was wondering just who “Commonwealth Fusions Systems” was. Turns out, as I suspected, it was 6 academics from MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center.
    “The six co-founders hail from the MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC), the world leader in high-field fusion:
    Martin Greenwald
    Dan Brunner
    Zach Hartwig
    Brandon Sorbom
    Robert Mumgaard
    Dennis Whyte
    CFS will collaborate with researchers at the MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center to design and build a fundamentally new class of superconducting magnets that will drastically reduce the size and cost of fusion power plants.”

  34. I have to chuckle a bit over this. I decided to go to the University of Texas as a physics major in 1964, because of their commitment to a Tokamak project (one of the first). They were “twenty years away” at that point, and had recruited some serious scientists to drive the project. I figured that by the time I had gotten my degrees, they would have made some good progress, and I could continue to work on what promised to be the power source of the future (Ah, the idealism of youth!).
    Texas has since built several Tokamaks, but is still at least 20 years away, after what is now nearly 55 years. As for me, I switched to math in my junior year – I could see the writing on the wall even then. It was a great disappointment, at the time, but at least I got a degree in something that turned out to be useful to my career in computers.

  35. I’ve often wondered how one could harness fusion power by using magnets that required LESS energy than was being generated.
    Never had a plausible explanation.
    Any suggestions?

    • I think that’s why this project is so dependent on new superconducting magnet technology. Have to have incredible flux density/efficiency to get past the power problem, and the superconductivity means that the currents required for that flux do not produce excessive heat (because of essentially zero resistance). At least that’s the theory.
      Containing the plasma, which is essentially chaotic and desperately wants to escape, required (I think) some modulation of the magnetic “bottle” in which the plasma is trapped – really hard problem which is inching toward getting solved. Initial plasmas lasted a fraction of a second – they are talking in this case about 10 seconds, which is a lifetime given how tricky this whole process is.

      • All of your ionized species are precessing around the field lines. The stronger the field (and gradient) the better your confinement. There’s no leakage from the ends in a tokomak because there are no ends. All of the losses are to the physical walls of the containment vessel. The drift of the neutrons are also a significant problem even though they do have a moment and are influenced by the magnetic fields.

    • “how one could harness fusion power by using magnets that required LESS energy than was being generated.”
      The magnets confine the electromagnetic force between protons. The energy output is partly kinetic energy of neutrons, which is not confined by the magnetic field because they are electrically neutral. Deuterium-tritium fusion reaction is promising because 80% of energy output is thru neutrons.

      • Dr Strangelove
        But one also needs to contain the kinetic energy from the neutrons in order to draw it off in a useable form so how does one achieve that without rendering the whole process uncommercial?
        Stephen Wilde

      • Then you have to contain the heated fluid until conversion to electrical power can be arranged. If 20% of the energy output of the fusion reaction is transferred to a fluid then quite some containing will be required.

      • “Then you have to contain the heated fluid until conversion to electrical power can be arranged.”
        Yes the boiler contains the heated fluid. That’s how James Watt did it since 1765 and still done in nuclear plants and coal plants.

        • Better be more than Hot water being produced! The Core of the fusion reactor must develope that Magnetic field and began to rotate to begin a Magnetic Flux and Field before it can produce Real Electrical Energy. Think of a Dynamo !

      • John, a fusion reactor is not an electric generator. It’s a neutron generator. You have to convert the energetic neutrons to heat using a boiler then to electricity using an electric generator.

  36. It seems to me that one of the biggest problems in nuclear research, both fission and fusion, is that the projects are so large and slow-moving that they cannot make effective use of new ideas. Wasted time is the best way of wasting large amounts of money when there are only huge mega-projects.
    Rather than government trying to pick a winner and hope that they are correct, I would like to see more emphasis on organizational structures that can quickly implement, and reward, incremental improvements that make a real difference to what is already known to work. At the moment I get the impression that they are still trying to hit a home run with every swing, and swinging only infrequently.

  37. “The magnets, based on a superconducting material that has only recently become available commercially, will produce a magnetic field four times as strong as that employed in any existing fusion experiment,”
    I’m skeptical because the problem in magnetic confinement is not magnetic strength but the chaotic force of the plasma. If you put very strong magnetic field in all possible directions, the energy input would be greater than energy output and the fusion reactor is useless commercially. The trick is to predict a few direction where the force is strongest and put a stronger magnetic confinement in those directions. This is not merely an engineering problem. It is a mathematical problem of predicting chaos. Good luck!

  38. They should investigate graphene pseudo-magnetism… apparently if you take a graphene sheet and stretch it a bit, it exhibits an astoundingly strong magnetic field (up to 200 Tesla). The magnetic field strength can be controlled by the amount of stretch applied to the graphene, and the magnetic field vector can be controlled by the shape of the graphene sheet. This would allow them to dynamically control magnetic field strength to maintain containment.

  39. I am amazed that a simple comment about 5 years ago about polarising the magnets would initiate a whole new way of keeping the plasma away from the reaction chamber walls,therefore extending the life of it,i also have an idea of continuously feeding the material into the chamber to extend the reaction making it viable

  40. Ashfield,
    The article stated:
    “It is important to recognize the Nov. 24 demonstration was to provide people with the characteristics of the E-Cat QX and was not a scientific experiment whose results would allow others to replicate it.”
    So LENR has not been proven beyond reasonable doubt. Can you write down the equation for the fusion reaction of E-Cat QX? Producing heat doesn’t prove fusion reaction. Chemical reactions can produce heat. I’m also curious why Rossi used Coefficient of Performance (CoP) because this is used for heat pumps, the reverse process of heat engines. CoP measures the heat transferred per unit work input. But electric generation requires work output from heat engines.

  41. During my detail at DARPA, I got a day-long tour of the General Atomics Tokamak facility, by their chief scientist. It’s an R&D facility, used by every country on earth that has a fusion program. The advances being made are principally in the area of active plasma stabilization, made possible by advanced control systems (and particularly by high-speed computing). They run continuously at high power levels, though not, of course, at breakeven. That isn’t due to being far off from breakeven, though. It’s due to their being licensed only for using deuterium, instead of deuterium-tritium. D-T has 50 times the fusion cross-section at half the input energy, and yields nearly 5 times the energy per reaction of D-D. That Tokamak would be well past engineering breakeven if it were to use D-T.
    The reactor produces a considerable flux of 5 MeV neutrons, yet somehow doesn’t dissolve within seconds. Handling neutrons is a very well understood engineering area. And far from being a radioactive waste producer, the flux from a working fusion reactor would be extremely useful in getting rid of the waste we have.
    ITER is using all of the technology and know-how from the GA Tokamak, but will burn D-T. I have no doubt that it will succeed.

    • If only I could suppose. Sure, ITER will succeed in its stated aims. It will also be unjustifiably wasteful. Perhaps a price we will eventually say was worth it, but my optimism is low.

  42. Arc of fission energy -Discovery of neutron -1933. Chicago Pile 1-1942. USN Nautilus -1954 (fantastic success by the way). And the rest is history.
    Arc of fusion energy – Eddington describes fusion -1920. I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn and some 14 MeV neutrons you can have in 30 years. Anyone interested? (1950 – present)

  43. 15 years!!!!
    Fusion is not so polution free – berilium is used to prevent ansorption of tritium.berillium dust is somewhat poisonous. The steel used in the construction also becomes radio active.
    From the register:
    interior of the reactor can exceed 300 million°C, twenty times hotter than the centre of the Sun. Jet manages this through a variety of methods including microwaving, albeit at a different frequency to that used to excite the water molecules in your curry.
    Fortunately, Jet is undergoing maintenance. We are experiencing less radiation than if we were outside, thanks to those thick walls.
    “Jet was built as a physics experiment,” James Edwards, a control software engineer on the project, tells The Reg on our tour. “Iter is more of an engineering experiment.”
    Jet is a European project involving 40 laboratories and 350 scientists. In 1997 it set a record, producing 16MW of fusion power from a total input power of 24MW.
    Iter, however, is a scaled-up version of Jet currently under construction in the south of France planned to open in 2025 – a fusion reactor that aims to use 50MW to generate 500MW for 500 seconds. Iter, in turn, will pave the way for Demo, one or more proof-of-concept fusion power stations, with South Korea aiming to put a Demo live in 2037.
    For now, however, Jet is the world’s biggest fusion device and proves that nuclear fusion can generate power – it’s just not big enough to create more power than it uses.

  44. From a MIT Club of Northern California 2016 presentation by Dr. Dennis Whyte. Link to his video presentation is below.
    Dr. Whyte will describe the ARC nuclear fusion reactor (shown above right), based on a new superconducting material, for achieving very high density magnetic fields. It will be used as a research center, but could ultimately become a prototype for an inexpensive 200MW power plant, vaulting nuclear fusion from scientific curiosity to potential commercialization.
    The ARC reactor is being designed to produce at least 3 times the power required to run it, which has never been done before and is the result of several new technologies which dramatically reduce the size and cost.
    The biggest breakthrough is a new superconducting material which produces a much higher magnetic field density, yielding a ten-fold increase in fusion power per volume. Molten salt will be used as a liquid cooling blanket for fast heat transfer and easy maintenance. And 3D printing techniques will allow the fabrication of reactor components in shapes that cannot be made by milling machines. The result is a much smaller, lower cost and highly efficient modular power plant with zero emissions and abundant fuel. Presentation at:

  45. If articles about fusion weren’t so amusing, I’d be annoyed.
    “…work made possible by decades of federal government funding for basic research.”
    Calling BS may be a bit much, but “hype” is certainly a mild term for such a press release and trivial effort at “fast-tracking” fusion power generation.
    Good grief. (I’ve been saying that a lot lately.) 15 years they say. So, 2033. Got it? 2033, check. See if you can even find historical information on the effort. I suggest a 99% chance that the efforts described will be forgotten in ten years, by 2028.
    The tell is the whining sound in the hat-tip to government funding for wasted research. Yes, government funding for research is a bust, a total waste, and articles (press releases) like this one are solely aimed at keeping the spigot of inefficiency flowing.
    Fusion is inevitable, but for 20 years, I’ve been saying it is 100 years away. (That is opposed to the fusion researchers who have been saying it is 20 years away for over 70 years now.) I judge fusion problems as just as hard today as when I was trying to become an expert in the field 20+ years ago.
    My tech take on this article: Superconducting magnets will contribute to efficiency gains in second-generation fusion power plants, about 150 years from now, not in prototypes for first generation, especially not in only fifteen years.
    If the quoted PhD was ’75, rather than ’15, I might listen.
    Again, the only point of MIT’s effort here is to keep the Federal funding spigot flowing. It is a sad state of affairs.
    A closing point, any time an article includes the word “inexhaustible,” stop reading. The author was clueless. This observation holds for all articles dealing with power production.

    • We’ve been able to generate fusion at greater than breakeven for 65 years. That’s how long since the first thermonuclear bomb test. There’s no reason why pulsed nuclear power at bomb scales could not be practical. In fact, the various aneutronic alternatives may be feasible under these conditions (I’ve been told that every fusion reaction that could be tested in a bomb has been, and worked). Even if not, the neutron flux would be useful in getting rid of nuclear waste.
      In case pulsed power sounds infeasible, please consider that your internal combustion engine produces just that. The scale is different, but not as much as you might think.

      • LOL @ Michael Kelly. Considering the fact that a fusion explosion is triggered by a fission device, and that harnessing a 20+ kiloton explosion for capturing energy is currently infeasible, you may be on to something.

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