MIT Achieves Breakthrough in Nuclear Fusion
New experiments with helium-3 in a magnetic confinement tokamak have produced exciting results for the future of fusion energy, including a tenfold increase in ion energy
Researchers operating fusion reactor experiments at MIT, along with partnered scientists in Brussels and the U.K., have developed a new type of nuclear fusion fuel that produces ten times as much energy from energized ions as previously achieved. The experiments with the new fusion fuel, which contains three types of ions—particles with an electric charge due to the loss or gain of an electron—were conducted in MIT's Alcator C-Mod tokamak, a magnetic confinement reactor that holds the records for highest magnetic field strength and highest plasma pressure in a fusion experiment.
The Alcator C-Mod conducted its final run in September 2016, but data from experiments in the tokamak device were recently analyzed, revealing a unique type of nuclear fusion fuel greatly increases ion energies within the plasma. The results were so encouraging that researchers operating the Joint European Torus (JET) in Oxfordshire, U.K., the largest operational magnetic confinement fusion experiment in the world, repeated the experiments and achieved the same increases in energy generation. A study detailing the findings was recently published in Nature Physics.
This is one of those breakthrough breakthroughs. Something that has immediate applications for all other fusion experiments going, and in fact it's something that puts fusion power genuinely within reach. Not "within reach" like 'we may see improved versions of this experiment over the next 40 years', but "within reach" meaning 'we're probably going to see a second experiment achieve net-energy gain within a year or two'. We need only one more 10x increase in energy to essentially have commercial-ready fusion power.
And lo and behold, what's the method we used to get it? Exactly the same thing proponents of lunar colonization have been talking about for decades— helium-3.