Tokamak Energy bets its spherical design will deliver fusion energy in the early 2030s

October 27, 2022, 9:30AMNuclear News

Tokamak Energy’s ST40, which achieved plasma temperatures of 100 million °C earlier this year. (Photo: Tokamak Energy)

Tokamak Energy on October 26 announced plans to construct a high field spherical tokamak using high-temperature superconducting (HTS) magnets. Dubbed the ST80-HTS, the machine would demonstrate multiple technologies required to achieve commercial fusion energy, the company says. Tokamak Energy plans to complete the ST80-HTS in 2026 to demonstrate spherical tokamak operations and inform the design of its successor, a fusion pilot plant called ST-E1 that the company says could deliver electricity into the grid in the early 2030s and produce up to 200 MWe.

Temperature milestone: Earlier this year, the company’s ST40 spherical tokamak reached the commercial fusion energy plasma temperature threshold of 100 million °C with what was reported as the highest triple product (an industry measure of plasma density, temperature, and confinement) of any private fusion energy company. The ST40 achieved those results with a plasma volume of less than one cubic meter, which is 15 times less volume than any other tokamak that has achieved the same threshold.

A growing part of the fusion community

January 29, 2021, 12:27PMNuclear NewsGuest Contributor

Fusion energy is no longer a far-off goal. It is now routinely achieved at laboratory scale but requires more energy to control the fusion reaction than the fusion reaction has released.

The path to viable fusion power from a magnetically confined plasma source requires the creation of a burning plasma, whereby the primary heating source comes from the fusion reaction itself.

To begin to consider the economic viability of a fusion power plant, the reaction must have a significant energy gain, or “Q” factor (the ratio of output power to input heating power), in a reaction that is sustained over a time frame of minutes or hours.

Construction has begun on an international experiment—the ITER tokamak—that aims to achieve a sustained reaction, and numerous privately funded smaller experiments have the potential to move forward toward this goal.

Nuclear News reached out to companies in the fusion community to ask for insights into their ongoing work. All are members of the Fusion Industry Association. Most companies submitted briefs at a specified word count, while others ran long and some ran short. Their insights appear on the following pages.

Notes on fusion

January 22, 2021, 12:23PMNuclear NewsDavid Kingham and Josh Kennedy-White

The ST25-HTS tokamak.

Governments around the world have been interested in fusion for more than 70 years. Fusion research was largely secret until 1968, when the Soviets unveiled exciting results from their tokamak (a magnetic confinement fusion device with a particular configuration that produces a toroidal plasma). The Soviets realized that tokamaks were not useful as weapons but could produce plasma in the million-degree temperature range to demonstrate Soviet scientific and technical prowess to the world.

Following this breakthrough, government laboratories around the world continued to pursue various methods of confining hot plasma to understand plasma physics under extreme conditions, getting closer and closer to the conditions necessary for fusion energy production. Tokamaks have been by far the most successful configuration. In the 1990s, the Tokamak Fusion Test Reactor at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory produced 10 MW of fusion power using deuterium-tritium fusion. A few years later, the Joint European Torus (JET) in the United Kingdom increased that to 16 MW, getting close to breakeven using 24 MW of power to heat the plasma.

Understanding the ITER Project in the context of global Progress on Fusion

January 15, 2021, 2:24PMNuclear NewsBernard Bigot

(photo: ITER Project gangway assembly)

The promise of hydrogen fusion as a safe, environmentally friendly, and virtually unlimited source of energy has motivated scientists and engineers for decades. For the general public, the pace of fusion research and development may at times appear to be slow. But for those on the inside, who understand both the technological challenges involved and the transformative impact that fusion can bring to human society in terms of the security of the long-term world energy supply, the extended investment is well worth it.

Failure is not an option.