It’s a sure bet that the best known “arc reactor” in the world is the glowing energy source in the chest of Tony Stark, the inventor with a superhero complex at the heart of the “Iron Man” film franchise.
But within a decade, if a new level of funding flows, there may be a new contender — and one that isn’t fictional.
A team of researchers, building on work that began as a class project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has published a design for an “ARC” demonstration-scale fusion energy power plant that could actually live up to the ambitious adjectives behind the acronym: “affordable, robust, compact.”
Below I’ve rounded up some useful coverage and descriptions of the research. I can’t do more at the moment because I’m tied up this week visiting the Institute for Applied Systems Analysis near (roasting) Vienna, one of the world’s top hubs assessing economic, population and climate trends, as well as energy and resource demands.
But first, I want to point out an important detail that you’ll hear more about as soon as I have time to dig in.
The obligatory acknowledgements note at the end of the paper mentions funding from the National Science Foundation and Department of Energy and thanks several people. But it also includes a line that will be particularly worth remembering if this design ends up breaking the “just 30 years away” spell that’s surrounded fusion research for more than half a century:
This work originated from a MIT Nuclear Science and Engineering graduate course.
The course is led by Dennis G. Whyte, a professor of nuclear science and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the new director of the school’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center. It’s no accident that Whyte’s mantra is “smaller and sooner.”
It’s exciting to see academia integrating directly with innovation on this scale. (There are other commercial “smaller and sooner” efforts under way, including a much-touted and much-discussed Lockheed Martin reactor design.)
The M.I.T. course recalls Inventor’s Studio, a course I learned about on a 2012 visit to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in which 20 seniors each year were challenged by engineering lecturer Burt Swersey to produce marketable innovations that are profitable, patentable and can improve the world.
With this in mind, I hope that Bill Gates’s planned investment push on game-changing renewable and nuclear energy innovation goes beyond a focus on specific technologies and includes support for academic models that can generate big breakthroughs.
But let’s get back to the ARC fusion power plant.
In his post at IFL Science, Jonathan O’Callaghan sets the right tone with this headline: “You Can Get Cautiously Excited About This Fusion Power ‘Breakthrough.’”
The ARC reactor is simply a proposal for now, but the team said it could potentially be built in just five years. For comparison, construction on a huge $40 billion (£26 billion) experimental fusion reactor in France called the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) began in 2013, and is expected to be completed in 2019. It was designed before these new superconductors were available.
Evan Ackerman at the engineering publication IEEE Spectrum sees few impediments to building one within a decade instead of the mythical 30 years:
We should point out, as the researchers do, that “a full engineering design is beyond the scope of the ARC study.” However, there’s no theoretical or technological showstopper preventing an engineering design for an ARC reactor to be developed. If it is, we could see a completed one up and running in as little as a decade. [Read the rest.]
The Latest on: ARC Fusion Power Plant
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The Latest on: ARC Fusion Power Plant
- America's First Nuclear Fusion Reactor Could Go Online in 2025on October 11, 2020 at 8:07 am
Lockheed Martin ( NYSE:LMT) shocked the world with the announcement that it was building a nuclear fusion reactor and planned to have it online " in as little as ten years ." Five years later, ...
- The New Space Race Is Fusion Energyon October 7, 2020 at 4:51 am
Space is exciting. Private companies like SpaceX alongside NASA capture the imagination and inspire us. But the grand challenge of our generation is not space. Our new space race is a planetary ...
- Fusion energy needs smart federal government regulationon October 6, 2020 at 10:09 pm
Creating new sources of sustainable, reliable and zero-carbon energy is a critical national security question and may prove to be an existential threat to humanity.
- New Reactor Design Could Produce First Ever Energy-Positive Fusion Reactionon October 5, 2020 at 7:00 am
The SPARC reactor is designed to achieve a Q factor of at least two, which means it will produce twice as much energy as it uses.
- Elon Musk: Fusion Will Probably Be More Expensive Than Wind, Solaron October 1, 2020 at 2:25 pm
On Tuesday, a team of MIT researchers made a big splash when they announced that their “SPARC” compact fusion reactor is “very likely to work.” The announcement, detailed in seven papers penned by ...
- This nuclear fusion reactor could be producing clean energy as soon as 2030on October 1, 2020 at 7:09 am
As countries around the world race to rid themselves of fossil fuels, nuclear fusion presents the ultimate opportunity in its promise of an effectively limitless supply of clean energy. While it's ...
- Nuclear fusion reactor could be producing electricity within a decadeon October 1, 2020 at 5:31 am
The SPARC nuclear fusion reactor, a joint project involving Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is expected to begin on June 21 next year and take three or four years until completion.
- Compact Nuclear Fusion Reactor Is ‘Very Likely to Work,’ Studies Suggeston September 29, 2020 at 6:23 am
A series of research papers renews hope that the long-elusive goal of mimicking the way the sun produces energy might be achievable.
- Validating the physics behind the new MIT-designed fusion experimenton September 29, 2020 at 6:13 am
MIT entered into a research agreement with startup company Commonwealth Fusion Systems to develop a next-generation fusion research experiment, called SPARC, as a precursor to a practical, ...
- New Scientific Papers Predict Historic Results for Commonwealth Fusion Systems' Approach to Commercial Fusion Energyon September 29, 2020 at 6:01 am
PRNewswire/ -- Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS), a company commercializing fusion energy, today announced a groundbreaking series of seven papers ...
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