Could we have LIMITLESS energy in 13 years? Doughnut-shaped device to 'put fusion power into the grid' by 2030
- Tokamak Energy's device uses magnets to heat plasma to 15 million°C
- The firm claims that its spherical design is a 'fast route to fusion'
- It is working on a nuclear reactor that it says will be built by 2025
In the race to end the world's reliance on fossil fuels, a fusion power firm has put forward the most ambitious timelines yet.
Tokamak Energy plans to start operating its fusion reactor this spring, and claims that its first commercial prototype will be built by 2025.
At a fraction of the size of other nuclear reactors, Tokamak's device uses a 'spherical tokamak', which the firm describes as the 'fast route to fusion.'
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The firm's reactor will use 'spherical tokamaks' – an experimental machine designed to harness the energy of fusion. Pictured is the magnetic coil structure of the ST40 with plasma (purple) inside. The magnetic coils make a trap for the hot plasma, keeping it away from the walls
The bold claims come from David Kingham, chief executive of Tokamak Energy, who was speaking at the International Energy Agency meeting last week.
The firm's reactor will use 'spherical tokamaks' – an experimental machine designed to harness the energy of fusion, unlike other firms who are using more 'conventional tokamaks'.
Mr Kingham said: 'By pursuing this route, fusion researchers around the world, including at Tokamak Energy, are developing new materials and technologies to help us get fusion power into the grid by 2030.'
Oxfordshire-based Tokamak Energy's technology revolves around high temperature superconducting (HTS) magnets, which allow for relatively low-power and small-size devices, but high performance.
In 2015, the world's first tokamak with HTS magnets – Tokamak Energy's second reactor – demonstrated 29 hours of continuous plasma, which was a world record.
Mr Kingham said: 'The plasma is where the fusion reaction takes place, and its stability is crucial.'
The firm is now working on its next ST40 reactor which it claims will produce plasma temperatures of 15 million°C – hotter than the centre of the sun.
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Mr Kingham said: 'The ST40 is designed to achieve 100 million°C and get within a factor of ten of energy break-even conditions.
'To get even closer to break-even point, the plasma density, temperature and confinement time then need to be fine-tuned.
'The next step is to build a reactor that takes this knowledge and uses it to demonstrate first electricity from fusion by 2025.
The technology revolves around high temperature superconducting (HTS) magnets, which allow for relatively low-power and small-size devices, but high performance
'This will then form the basis of a power plant module that will deliver electricity into the grid by 2030.'
In an interview with World Nuclear News, Mr Kingham said that the ST40 is due to be completed this spring.
But Tokamak Energy faces some strict competition from Tri Alpha Energy, a rival firm that has already developed a machine that can hold hot plasma steady at 18 million°F (10 million°C) for 11.5 milliseconds.
The ST40 is designed to achieve 100 million°C and get within a factor of ten of energy break-even conditions (artist's impression)
A combination of two sets of magnetic coils creates a field in both vertical and horizontal directions, acting as a magnetic 'cage' to hold and shape the plasma
The firm recently received $500 million (£405 million) to created a commercial fusion reactor, that it claims will be ready be 2027.
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.
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
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.
Tri Alpha Energy's reactor features an unusual design - a long, tube (pictured) that collides pairs of plasma doughnuts to produce heat
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.
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