There are many directions we could go when it comes to the future of sustainable energy—but the UK made a bold move when it announced a huge investment (220 million pounds huge) in a prototype fusion power facility that could be functioning as a commercial power plant by 2040.
So it’s safe to say the race to fusion power is on. Fusion energy could provide us with clean, basically limitless energy.
But the thing is, fusion power isn’t really a reality yet, but does this prototype facility have a shot at making fusion a reality?
Nuclear fusion is what powers stars, including the sun. The ‘fusion’ part refers to the fact that isotopes of extremely light elements like hydrogen, are fusing together at the extremely high temperatures and pressures that exist at the center of stars. Under these conditions, gases like helium and hydrogen actually exist as plasmas.
So how could we possibly recreate what happens inside of stars here on Earth? By replicating those extreme conditions so that we can get the atoms to behave the way we want them to.
And that involves creating plasmas, or taking gases to very high temperatures and densities, which a number of innovative facilities do in a variety of ways.
One of these facilities is called ITER, which means ’the way’ in Latin. ITER is a major international fusion collaboration that’s been in progress since 1985.
China, the EU, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia, and the U.S. are all contributing members who have agreed to fund ITER’s goal of producing fusion energy that could power our world.
Find out more about the UK’s major investment, the ITER facilities, and the future of fusion energy on this episode of Elements.
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How Close Are We to Fusion Energy? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZW_YCWLyv6A
UK hatches plan to build world’s first fusion power
“Like ITER, the planned UK facility would be based on a ‘tokamak’ design that uses magnetic fields to confine a plasma of heavy isotopes of hydrogen, tritium and deuterium, which fuse under extreme heat and pressure. But whereas ITER’s tokamak is doughnut-shaped, STEP would use a method trialled in the United Kingdom since the 1990s that holds the superheated gas in a more compact, cored-apple shape.”
Can AI help crack the code of fusion power?
“Last year, a panel of advisers to the US Department of Energy published a list of game-changers that could “dramatically increase the rate of progress towards a fusion power plant.” The list included advanced algorithms, like artificial intelligence and machine learning.”
The Long Wait for Fusion Power May Be Coming to an End
“Exactly which, if any, of these initiatives will crack the fusion nut is still uncertain. But experts hope fusion power one day can make fossil-fuel-fired plants and nuclear fission reactors obsolete, along with most of their environmental problems. And we can take heart that the remaining challenges are all just a matter of advanced engineering. Says Madia, ‘We know the science is absolutely real because we can see it happening in the sun every day.'”
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