MIT: We'll Have a Working Fusion Reactor in 15 Years

Tuesday, 13 March 2018 - 11:49AM
Science News
Tuesday, 13 March 2018 - 11:49AM
MIT: We'll Have a Working Fusion Reactor in 15 Years
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Artificial fusion reaction is essentially the modern equivalent of the Philosopher's Stone; an incredible, unlimited source of power, that while theoretically possible, has thus far proven elusive to the scientists that have been attempting to create it.

Scientists have been trying to crack this code for decades, but considering that a stable fusion reaction essentially means creating a miniature star, it's not exactly easy. While Spider-Man 2 alas cannot be taken as completely scientifically accurate, it does show how difficult it is to get this fusion technology working (spoiler alert: without a friendly neighborhood wall crawler on hand to help out, you end up with a horrible mess).



In truth, our fusion experiments are years behind the imagined version of the technology that's shown off in Spider-Man 2. We still have a lot of hurdles to cross before fusion can possibly be achieved in a laboratory setting.

So what's the trick to building a successful fusion reaction? Robert Mumgaard, the CEO of Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS), has wonderfully summed up what we need to do:

Opening quote
"Everyone agrees on the eventual impact and the commercial potential of fusion power, but then the question is: How do you get there? We get there by leveraging the science that's already developed, collaborating with the right partners, and tackling the problems step by step."
Closing quote


One of these smaller steps has just been achieved, as CFS has teamed up with scientists at MIT to begin fusion experimentation in earnest, using superconductors and magnets to hold potential fusion experiments together.

While there's no clear vision of what these experiments will look like just yet, from the sounds of it, Spider-Man 2 isn't entirely inaccurate—although it's unlikely that these actual tests will take place in a luxury New York studio loft. That's just common sense.

According to MIT President L. Rafael Reif:

Opening quote
"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. 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."
Closing quote


The fact that these experiments are entering the corporate sphere is noteworthy, because, let's face it, this increases the chance that something will actually come from the research. With the current US government acting stingy with regards to research funding, it's possible that CFS actually provides the best possible chance that fusion experiments will receive the funding they require, as MIT scientists work on this potentially revolutionary breakthrough.

This is great news: the sooner we can create a long-lasting clean energy source, the better. And according to CFS, we'll have a working fusion reactor in less than two decades. "The aspiration is to have a working power plant in time to combat climate change," said CEO of Commonwealth Fusion Systems Bob Mumgaard. "We think we have the science, speed and scale to put carbon-free fusion power on the grid in 15 years."

In theory, fusion could help combat much of the negative effects that are produced by our current carbon-producing power sources. If this technology works, it may well represent our best bet at keeping the world habitable long into the future.

Let's just keep any octopus mad scientists away from this project. Just in case.

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