The large high-temperature superconducting electromagnet achieved a field strength of 20 tesla, making it the strongest magnate of its kind ever created on the planet. (Image credit: MIT)
Engineers from MIT and Commonwealth Fusion Systems have successfully tested the world’s strongest high temperature superconducting (HTS) magnet, technology that could become a key component for commercial fusion energy. The magnet achieved a field strength of 20 tesla, making it the strongest of its kind ever produced on the planet. Fusion energy is a proposed form of power generation that produces electricity from nuclear fusion reactions, a process that generates more power than it consumes. The magnate represents one of the significant hurdles to overcome to achieve that goal.
With the magnate technology now a reality, the engineers state they are on track to build the world’s first fusion device, called SPARC, which is expected to be completed by 2025. The magnet was designed using a new high-temperature superconducting material made in the form of flat, ribbon-like tape stacked 16 layers high. That arrangement allows it to generate a higher magnetic field in a small area, about the same performance achieved with low-temperature superconductors that are 40-times larger in volume.
The superconducting material also has applications outside of fusion, including making trains faster, particle accelerators that are larger and cheaper, and improved nuclear imaging. If the upcoming SPARC reactor demonstration is a success, the engineers hope their advancement will lead to thousands of fusion plants producing clean energy around the globe.
Unlike nuclear reactors, which have the potential for catastrophic meltdowns, fusion reactors rely on the precise and controlled temperature, pressure and magnetic field parameters to produce net energy. They operate with seconds or microseconds worth of fuel at any given moment, so any damage or loss of control would result in the immediate quench of those reactions. Since there is no potential of releasing ionizing radiation into the atmosphere, the plants are considered “green technology.” It will be interesting to see how this technology evolves if the SPARC demonstration is a success.
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