Big fusion moment coming soon, Popular Mechanics says

January 29, 2021, 10:19AMANS Nuclear Cafe

Rendering of SPARC, a compact, high-field, DT burning tokamak, currently under design by a team from MIT and CFS. Source: CFS/MIT-PSFC - CAD Rendering by T. Henderson

The fusion community is reaching a "Kitty Hawk moment" as early as 2025, according to the Popular Mechanics story, "Jeff Bezos Is Backing an Ancient Kind of Nuclear Fusion."

That moment will come from magnetized target fusion (MTF), the January 25 story notes, a technology that dates back to the 1970s when the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory first proposed it. Now, however, MTF’s proponents say that the technology is bearing down to reach the commercial power market. The question is, Will it be viable before the competing fusion model of tokamaks, such as ITER, start operations?

The MTF: The story explains that like a tokamak, an MTF reactor involves hot plasma contained by a powerful magnetic field. Where a tokamak is heated by extraordinary outside power, however, the MTF reactor made by General Fusion (backed by Jeff Bezos, which is how the story got its catchy title) is pressurized to superheat the plasma. This pressure is applied by pistons that coordinate to make a pressure wave.

From there, the hot neutrons escape the plasma and are captured in the liquid metal, and their energy is transferred to a heat exchanger to make power. With a main chamber of 10 feet in diameter, "General Fusion’s MTF reactor is considered small for a fusion technology intended to self sustain and generate power after reaching plasma ignition," the story comments.

Competing company: Another firm, Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS), operates with a 10-ton magnet at the heart of its fusion reactor. The superconducting magnet will trap and pressurize hydrogen to induce a powerful plasma reactor. Last year, TechCrunch said that the company's technology is a hypothetical “leapfrog” of the entire current generation of plasma tokamak reactors.


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