Nuclear fusion, the always-just-over-the-horizon technology that will solve humanity’s energy needs forever, may be a step closer. Over at Nature:
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge will work with a private firm to develop technology for producing energy from nuclear fusion within the next 15 years. If successful, the multimillion-dollar effort could help to unlock a virtually limitless source of pollution-free energy…
“It’s about scale, and it’s about speed,” says Robert Mumgaard, chief executive officer at CFS. The company — a spin-off from MIT — has attracted $50 million from Italian energy giant ENI, and plans to invest $30 million of that sum in research and development at MIT over the next three years.
Massive public funding for theoretical research such as this would be a hard sell for any government, so attracting private-sector investment has long been thought key in making fusion a reality. The free market showing faith that investing in the science will have a positive return will likely attract further investment in the field.
So how does it work? (Broadly.)
Fusing hydrogen atoms to form helium releases massive amounts of energy, which can be harnessed to produce carbon-free electricity. But sustaining the extreme temperatures that are required for this process in a confined space remains a daunting challenge that has defied most hopes and expectations to date…
The first challenge will be to transform a commercially available superconductor into a large, high-performance electromagnet, which could take around three years. Within the next decade, the team hopes to develop a prototype reactor that can generate more energy than it consumes. Then, they hope to develop a 200-megawatt pilot power plant that can export electricity to the grid.