Your electric bill could end up being obsolete if one company succeeds at harnessing the energy of superhot plasma with a mega-reactor that could change how everything plugs in and lights up.
Tokamak Energy, a UK-based nuclear fusion company, is on a mission to develop a clean energy source that is Earth’s “star in a jar” answer to the nuclear fusion processes that keep orbs like our sun glowing. Their new ST40 reactor just heated a hydrogen plasma to a temperature that out-scorches even the core of the sun—27 million degrees Fahrenheit. Tokamak believes that the success of this test is a major leap toward global plasma energy that could make burning carbon a thing of the past.
“We are taking significant steps towards achieving fusion energy and doing so with the agility of a private venture, driven by the goal of achieving something that will have huge benefits worldwide,” said Tokamak Energy CEO John Carling. “Our aim is to make fusion energy a commercial reality by 2030.”
ST40 is a tokamak fusion reactor, which was first developed in Soviet Russia during the ‘60s. It uses a toroidal (think doughnut-shaped) vacuum chamber that confines plasma so fusion can happen and be sustained. Hydrogen isotopes deuterium (hydrogen-2 or heavy hydrogen) and tritium (hydrogen-3) are exposed to tremendous heat and pressure, going through an electrical breakdown that strips electrons from nuclei and producing the electrically charged gas otherwise known as a plasma.
Charged particles of a plasma get so energized at certain temperatures that instead of being electromagnetically repelled when they crash into each other, they fuse, unleashing enormous energy bursts.
Nuclear fusion will not only power all of Earth someday but also blast off rockets and keep them airborne, eliminating the need for massive amounts of fuel that increase payload weight and launch costs while leaving clouds of exhaust in their wake. Thrust engines powered by this technology will likely rely on tokamak reactors (which have had the most success in experiments) to propel them through space. NASA is funding the development of fusion reactor rockets by Princeton Satellite Systems, which could make missions that are now too expensive and otherwise prohibitive a reality in the future.
The next target for Tokamak Energy is to reach 212 million degrees Fahrenheit, which is the temperature at which deuterium and tritium particles fuse. Tokamak’s reactors will also push this technology further by combining their reactors with high temperature superconducting magnets, and upcoming experiments will investigate the impact high magnetic fields have on plasma.
“Fusion is a major challenge, but one that must be tackled,” Tokamak Energy co-founder Dr. David Kingham said. “We believe that with collaboration, dedication and investment, fusion will be an important part of achieving deep decarbonisation of the global energy supply in the 2030s and beyond.”