Nuclear fusion has been circulating the news for years, promising the most advanced and most efficient way to generate unlimited amounts of clean energy. And although, the big dream to have that fusion reactor that can solve all energy troubles of humanity is still quite a long way away, it is closer than a few days ago.
The wait is finally over. After building up the anticipation for over a month, the first and only of its kind, stellarator nuclear fusion reactor, went on yesterday in the Max Plank Institute for Plasma Physics. It is called Wendelstein 7-X, or W7-X, it has been under construction for the past 19 years, and its cost comes to about $1 billion (and a bit more). The researchers and engineers behind the technology proudly announced that they are now officially entering the testing stage.
This type of reactors work by creating magnetic fields using coiled superconductors. These magnetic fields contain hydrogen gas, which is then heated until the atoms fuse. Unlike the simpler versions of these reactors, the tokamaks, stellarators are not subjected to magnetic disruptions and can operate in a steady state for long periods of time. To put this in numbers, the French Tore Supra tokamak currently holds the record of 6 minutes and 30 seconds. Stellarators are expected to run for at least 30 minutes at a time.
But, W7-X is better than any stellarator we have ever seen or read about, and this is what makes it all much more exciting. It contains 50 6-ton magnetic coils (containing the plasma) within 16-meter-wide ring with 250 access ports. The first plasma images created by the machine were tweeted yesterday, proving that the ever-so-anticipated milestone has been finally reached. These images show that nuclear fusion was achieved, and the machine was performing as it should- stripping the electrons from the atoms within the gas.
If all tests prove successful, W7-X could completely revolutionize the way we produce and use energy. All eyes are now on the monster machine, everyone eagerly anticipating to see whether the machine can hold it for longer.
Regardless of how it all turns out, however, no one can argue that the team at Max Plank has done something that no one believed it could be done. Huge milestone has been reached, marking the begging of a whole new line of research and innovation in the energy field.
Image (c) Max Plank