A Chinese fusion reactor was able to sustain temperatures reaching 90 million degrees Fahrenheit. Enduring temperatures that are more than what’s believed to be at the core of our Sun is critical for clean energy production.
A team of scientists in China reportedly created plasma blasts that registered a blistering 90 million degrees Fahrenheit. What’s even more impressive than the creation of plasma that’s hotter than the sun is the fact that the fusion reactor was able to sustain the heat for nearly two minutes. Generating such extremely high temperatures on Earth isn’t uncommon, as has been proven by the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). However, all previous attempts lasted a tiny fraction of a second and aren’t important for the production of clean energy.
Following the success of the Wendelstein X-7 Stellarator in Germany, China claims to have succeeded in an equally impressive feat that’s bound to have beneficial repercussions for the fusion reactors that would one day produce clean energy. As reported by the South China Morning Post, China’s Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) was able to hold 90 million Fahrenheit (50 million Kelvin) plasma blasts for 102 seconds. The sun’s core temperature is believed to be a mere third of the temperatures that the reactor had to endure.
What’s even more impressive was the relative simplicity of the fusion reactor. Unlike the extremely complex Wendelstein X-7 Stellarator, which was heavily optimized and tweaked using some of the fastest supercomputers available to scientists, China’s EAST is laughably torus-shaped. However, what the doughnut-shaped fusion reactor has been able to achieve is certainly no laughing matter. Scientists used the simple reactor to conduct their experiment. The fusion reactor makes use of an extremely powerful magnetic field to help steer the plasma. The magnetic field, generated by electromagnets, helps keep the plasma restrained into the shape of a torus (or doughnut). More importantly, the field keeps the plasma from making contact with the reactor’s metallic sides.
China’s fusion reactor was able to sustain 90 million degrees Fahrenheit because the sides of the reactor never actually come in contact with the extremely hot plasma, reported Digital Trends. If the plasma ever escapes the confines of the magnetic field, it would, near instantaneously, melt the fusion reactor, which would be nothing short of a catastrophe.
The remarkable feat is creating a fusion reactor that can reliably keep the plasma restrained by magnetic fields, which future power plants could generate a theoretically limitless supply of clean energy. According to the Institute of Physical Science in Hefei, scientists worked “day and night” on perfecting the trial’s endurance. They painstakingly tweaked the alignment of each magnet. These magnets had to be perfectly oriented to capture any high-energy particles escaping torus-shaped plasma, thereby improving efficiency and ensuring the fusion reactor would perform reliably at these high temperatures for longer periods of time.
Despite the impressive feat, the scientists aren’t satisfied. The team noted that they intended to drive the plasma up to 180 million degrees Fahrenheit (100 million Kelvin) and wanted their reactor to sustain it for 17 minutes. The team is confident of tweaking the parameters to achieve their goals but admitted that there’s still a lot of time, perhaps a few decades, before a reliable fusion reactor is able to generate power using plasma heated to extreme temperatures.
The Wendelstein X-7 Stellarator, in comparison, was able to withstand plasma that was at 180 million Fahrenheit. However, the test within the extremely complex reactor lasted only a tenth of a second, reported Popular Mechanics. Unfettered, the team is working to develop a version that is able to run for 30 minutes.
— Gizmodo (@Gizmodo) February 9, 2016
The race to develop fusion reactors that would sustain plasma that’s hotter than 90 million Fahrenheit, would depend on the design and the complexity, apart from reliability and construction cost.
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