An almost limitless supply of clean energy has been brought one step closer to reality after a team in the U.S. set a new record for nuclear fusion. By smashing the previous record for plasma pressure — one of the key components of the fusion process — engineers and scientists have nudged the process further along the road towards a viable source of energy production. While using nuclear fusion to power homes and businesses may still be a ways off, the work proves that the burning of star-like fuel can be achieved and contained using the current approach. The research is being carried out at the “MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center” in Cambridge, Massachusetts wherein they pushed the pressures up by a record breaking 15%. Nuclear fusion works on the same principle as the reactions inside the sun’s core. By using intense heat, magnetic fields and pressure, hydrogen atoms are fused together to create heavier atoms of helium, releasing energy in the process. With a volume of just one square meter, the temperature inside the reactor reached more than 63 million degrees Fahrenheit with trillions of fusion reactions taking place each second. They achieved the pressures using MIT’s custom Alcator-C Mod Takamak reactor, which uses intense magnetic fields to contain the reaction within a fixed volume. Aside form the pressures involved, which are seen as a significant technical challenge, the main hurdle for fusion reactors is the energy they need to get the reactions going. Super-heating gasses to reach a plasma state producing the pressure to boost the reactions and generating the intense magnetic fields to contain it requires millions of watts of power — far more than the reactions themselves currently produce. In order for this process to be an economically viable, the output has to be vastly increased beyond the input. Other groups outside the U.S. are looking to push the energy producing capacity of the technology even further, such as the ITER reactor currently under construction in France. From what I understand this will be the largest reactor ever built and will be 800 times the volume of MIT’s reactor. Engineers hope to push pressure 1 to 2 times even higher than at MIT once the reactor is fully operational. Bottom-line, the pressures achieved by the MIT scientists is a monumental achievement and validates that they have the right approach that could lead to practical — and hopefully — limitless fusion energy. The findings were recently presented at the International Atomic Energy Agency Fusion Energy Conference in Kyoto, Japan. I also believe increasing technology is pushing further in this direction. If you’d like to learn more about this incredible process you can watch a video and take a 360 degree tour of the Alcator C-Mod from MIT. How incredible it is that scientists, physicists, engineers and students from all over the world are working together on recreating a star-like process in order to better harness more efficient energy. Technology is clearly transforming the energy sector. (Source: MIT News)

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