Yes, you read the headline correctly. Is this possible? For those of you who are not ‘scientific’, get ready to take your mind to a whole new level. The world-renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in collaboration with a Bill Gates backed start-up called Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS), has announced the completion of a major milestone test of an array of powerful magnets that could make a fusion energy power plant possible in the near future. Ok, if this all sounds like science fiction to you, let’s discuss it in detail.
So, what is nuclear fusion? The term refers to the fusion (merging) of two nuclei that creates a single nucleus which releases the same kind of energy that powers our sun and all the stars in the universe. This is a new, clean and sustainable energy source that is on the precipice of emerging as a reality. The ramifications of actually succeeding to create this energy in a safe and stable environment will change our planet’s energy landscape forever – as well as interstellar space travel.
So how exactly does it work? Let’s start with the magnets. The test concluded that the magnets reached 20 Tesla (a unit of measure that shows the strength of a magnet). It achieved this level while only consuming 30 watts of energy. No other national lab, university, government or private company on planet earth has achieved this goal. So why is that important in achieving fusion energy? This magnetic field is capable of containing plasma (a reaction produced from the fusion) in a safe and stable environment, thereby harnessing the energy for commercialized use.
Let’s throw some Marvel movie references in the mix. In Spider-Man: No Way Home, Doctor Octopus (Doc-Oc) says as he holds a device, “I now hold the power of the sun.” Also, Iron Man’s ‘arc reactor’ is the device that powers his suit. (Stark Industries to the rescue!) Both of these fictional devices represent the ability to harness nuclear fusion and create energy. The real-life version of this technology at the MIT lab is called the Tokomak. This donut shaped fusion machine has a magnet array at its center that, when powered up, creates a magnetic field capable of containing the reaction, that we hope, will one day be the birth of a commercialized fusion energy reactor.
CFS says it’s possible to have ‘net energy’ from fusion by 2025. It has raised $250 million from investors, including Breakthrough Energy Ventures – a fund whose backers include Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson. Not too shabby. We have a long way to go with this technology, but this milestone is a huge step forward. Talk about life imitating art!
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