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MIT and newly formed company launch novel approach to fusion power
Posted on Tuesday, March 20, 2018 @ 15:38:17 EDT by vlad

Science From MIT News: MIT and newly formed company launch novel approach to fusion power by David Chandler | MIT News Office

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...

Full story: http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-newly-formed-company-launch-novel-approach-fusion-power-0309

Also a good read: The Guardian view on nuclear fusion: a moment of truth/ Editorial

Quote from the article: One of the cliches of nuclear power research is that a commercial fusion reactor is only ever a few decades away – and always will be. So claims that the technology is on the “brink of being realised” by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a private company should be viewed sceptically. The MIT-led team say they have the “science, speed and scale” for a viable fusion reactor and believe it could be up and running within 15 years, just in time to combat climate change. The MIT scientists are all serious people and perhaps they are within spitting distance of one of science’s holy grails. But no one should hold their breath...

 
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"MIT and newly formed company launch novel approach to fusion power" | Login/Create an Account | 1 comment | Search Discussion
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Re: MIT and newly formed company launch novel approach to fusion power (Score: 1)
by vlad on Tuesday, March 20, 2018 @ 17:00:54 EDT
(User Info | Send a Message) http://www.zpenergy.com
Interesting comment by EnviroCapitalist (The Guardian): MIT obviously have a better approach than ITER, but still there are engineering "issues" to overcome.

As the article (almost) mentions, 80% of the energy is given off as Neutrons (not Neutrinos). This is the energy that needs to be captured. The neutrons have no charge, so cannot be controlled by magnetic fields. Instead, they should leave the chamber and smash into blankets of lithium, whilst somehow avoiding the super-conducting coils operating at cryogenic temperatures.

In the lithium blanket, the neutrons produce tritium, alpha particles and heat. The heat is removed by water powering a steam turbine. So you have steam at perhaps 300C near to liquid nitrogen coolant at about -200C.

The tritium needs to be recovered from the lithium, stored, and reinserted into the reactor. But tritium is one of the trickiest radioactive products. Tritium moves - it will get into the steam circuits and some will escape. According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tritium "Tritium has leaked from 48 of 65 nuclear sites in the US". Small quantities from fission reactors are not an issue - and a design aim is to minimise tritium production - but in a fusion reactor the aim is to maximise tritium production.

Other neutrons will impact into the other materials of the reactor, activating some of them and making them radioactive and weaker. If too many tritium atoms escape, then the reactor doesn't have enough tritium to continue.

So good progress, but I'm not sure that a fusion reactor would be any cleaner or safer than a molten salt reactor, and I can't see how it will be cheaper.

There are some private companies working on pulse fusion (e.g. Helion Energy). Whilst I'm not convinced by the physics, from an engineering perspective they would be a lot easier to build on a commercial basis.




 

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