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In a bid to end the world’s reliance on fossil fuels, a fusion power firm has raised $500 million (£405 million) to develop commercial fusion power.
Tri Alpha Energy has already developed a machine that can hold hot plasma steady at 18 million°F (10 million°C) for 11.5 milliseconds.
The firm will use the funds to extend this time further and at even higher temperatures, and believes that it could have the world’s first commercial fusion reactor by 2027.
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Tri Alpha Energy has already developed a machine that can hold hot plasma steady at 18 million°F (10 million°C) for 11.5 milliseconds
HOW DOES FUSION POWER WORK?
Fusion involves placing hydrogen atoms under high heat and pressure until they fuse into helium atoms.
When deuterium and tritium nuclei – which can be found in hydrogen – fuse, they form a helium nucleus, a neutron and a lot of energy.
This is down by heating the fuel to temperatures hotter than the surface of the sun.
Strong magnetic fields are used to keep the plasma away from the walls so that it doesn’t cool down and lost it energy potential.
These are produced by superconducting coils surrounding the vessel, and by an electrical current driven through the plasma.
For energy production. plasma has to be confined for a sufficiently long period for fusion to occur.
The particular type of fusion power Tri Alpha is working on is based on heating hydrogen atoms to temperatures of 5.4 billion°F (3 billion°C) – which is hotter than the surface of the sun.
The heat creates plasma that has a mixture of electrons and ions.
When ions in a plasma collide, they fuse together to form new atoms and release huge amounts of energy.
It’s a relatively simple concept, but the trick is in heating the gas to such a high temperature. Currently no known material can hold this heat.
Over the years, scientists have come up with two main methods to overcome this; cause an implosion that occurs rapidly, or use a magnetic field.
Tri Alpha Energy is using the latter option, but says it has made its breakthrough with an unusual reactor design – a long, tube that collides pairs of plasma donuts to produce heat.
According to a detailed report in Science, the team has placed magnets around a cigar shaped configuration that allows for firing angled plasma beams at one another.
The particular type of fusion power Tri Alpha is working on is based on heating hydrogen atoms to temperatures of 5.4 billion°F (3 billion°C) – which is hotter than the surface of the sun
The plasma that forms from its hydrogen and boron sample is then stabilised with beams of high-energy particles.
‘Until you learn to control and tame [the hot gas], it’s never going to work.
‘In that regard, it’s a big deal. They seem to have found a way to tame it,’ Jaeyoung Park, head of the rival fusion start-up Energy/Matter Conversion Corporation in San Diego told Science.
Scientist have come up with two main methods to overcome this; cause an implosion that occurs rapidly, or use a magnetic field. Tri Alpha Energy is using the latter option, but says it has made its breakthrough with an unusual reactor design — a long, tube (pictured) that collides pairs of plasma donuts to produce heat
Tri Alpha is keeping many details about its project under wraps.
But Science has confirmed that the company now plans to create a fusion tube that boasts even more power and can reach hotter temperatures for longer periods of time.
Using this approach, the scientists were able to reportedly heat the gas up to 10 million °C for 11.5 milliseconds, at which point the machine ran out of fuel.
The team has placed magnets around a cigar shaped configuration that allows for firing angled plasma beams at one another
This, however, is still short of the 5.4 billion °F (3 billion °C) temperature needed to achieve a fusion reaction.
The team now plans to use the $500 million (£405 million) funding to improve its machine, dubbed C-2U, to achieve a ten-fold increase in temperature needed to create a fusion reactor design.
The plasma that forms from its hydrogen and boron sample is then stabilised with beams of high-energy particles
One of the researchers is pictured inside the C-2U device, which they hope will be able to generate commercial fusion energy
ZERO-EMISSION FUSION REACTOR CLAIMS TO BE CHEAPER THAN COAL
One of the most promising reactor designs is the tokamak reactor, which is a hollow metal chamber in the shape of a donut
A fuel with no greenhouse emissions or radioactive waste that is almost unlimited, sounds too good to be true.
But scientists have taken one more step to make fusion power useful and affordable.
Engineers have designed a concept for a fusion reactor which, when scaled up to the size of a large electrical power plant, would rival costs for a new coal-fired plant with similar electrical output.
Fusion, the process that powers the sun and other stars, entails forging the nuclei of atoms to release energy, as opposed to splitting them, which is fission – the principle behind the atomic bomb and nuclear power.
Engineers from the University of Washington have published their design and analysis findings and will present them at the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Fusion Energy Conference in St. Petersburg, Russia, earlie this year.
The design builds on existing technology and creates a magnetic field within a closed space to hold plasma in place long enough for fusion to occur – allowing the hot plasma to react and burn.
The reactor itself would be largely self-sustaining, meaning it would continuously heat the plasma to maintain thermonuclear conditions.
Heat generated from the reactor would heat up a coolant that is used to spin a turbine and generate electricity, similar to how a typical power reactor works.
‘Right now, this design has the greatest potential of producing economical fusion power of any current concept,’ said Thomas Jarboe, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics at the university.