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Fusion: Science Edges Closer to Success

By Dick Weisinger

Fusion is the combination of two “light atoms” to form a single bigger atom. Very high temperatures and pressures are needed for the process to happen. A byproduct of fusion is a very large amount of energy. Scientists have been able to achieve fusion in very small amounts, but to be useful, the reaction needs to be on a bigger scale and made so that it is self-sustaining and produces more energy than used to start the reaction.

Scientists have tried to achieve fusion for a little over one hundred years, and so far the results have been elusive.

“But,” said Melanie Windridge, plasma physicist based in the UK, “progress is being made. Today, factors are coming together to accelerate advances in fusion. For one, the science has matured — we now have a good understanding of plasma physics, and concepts like tokamaks have achieved fusion reactions. On top of that, new technologies have come along like high-performance computing to improve plasma simulations and modelling; artificial intelligence and machine learning to optimize and control operations; and high-temperature superconductors that can produce much stronger magnetic fields to better confine fusion fuels. Today’s much more powerful and efficient lasers could boost inertial confinement fusion, and advances in manufacturing could help to bring down the costs of experiments and future power stations.”

Michl Binderbauer, CEO of TAE Technologies, said that fusion reaction requires “reaching at least 100 million degrees Celsius, a temperature that is readily achievable today. However, sustaining that hot environment is extremely challenging because plasma is a delicate substance that must be protected from conditions that would otherwise decay it or cool it down. The goal is to confine this plasma well enough that it can be maintained with less energy than the fusion reaction generates. By doing so, net energy can then be released to the electric grid.”

Binderbauer said that “we must deploy other forms of green energy both now and in the future, even when fusion is up and running. Fusion is a long-term approach and a powerful energy source that can ultimately provide the needed baseload power for the grid to complement solar, wind and other renewables. Because fusion is not dependent on the sun shining or the wind blowing, it can ensure readily available power at any time.”

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