- MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center last month cracked a major milestone in the pursuit of limitless clean energy, setting a new world record for plasma pressure in the Institute’s Alcator C-Mod tokamak nuclear fusion reactor.
- The pressure is a key ingredient to producing energy from nuclear fusion; MIT said its new result achieves over 2 atmospheres of pressure for the first time.
- The results were presented at the International Atomic Energy Agency Fusion Energy Conference this week.
For decades, scientists have looked to nuclear fusion as a possible source of clean energy. But several challenges must be overcome to make it viable: the plasma must be more than 50 million degrees; it must be stable under intense pressure, and it must be contained in a fixed volume.
MIT has been working with the Alcator C-Mod for more than 20 years, repeatedly topping the record for plasma pressure in a magnetic confinement device. According to the Institute, the previous record of 1.77 atmospheres was set in 2005. While setting the new record of 2.05 atmospheres, MIT said the temperature inside Alcator C-Mod reached over 35 million degrees Celsius—twice as hot as the center of the sun.
MIT said the plasma produced 300 trillion fusion reactions per second and had a central magnetic field strength of 5.7 tesla. It carried 1.4 million amps of electrical current and was heated with over 4 million watts of power. The plasma lasted for two full seconds.
“This is a remarkable achievement that highlights the highly successful Alcator C-Mod program at MIT,” Dale Meade, former deputy director at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, said in a story on MIT's web site. “The record plasma pressure validates the high-magnetic-field approach as an attractive path to practical fusion energy.”
Superconductors are a central ingredient of a conceptual pilot plant called the Affordable Robust Compact reactor, which MIT believes could generate up to 250 million watts.
Members of Alcator C-Mod team discussed fusion and the pressure in an recorded Ask Me Anything session on Reddit yesterday.