Harnessing the power of the Sun. This is what the new massive stellerator is supposed to do and now the team of researchers have confirmed that the massive nuclear fusion machine is working.
A team of researchers from the US and Germany have now confirmed that the Wendelstein 7-X (W 7-X) stellerator is producing the super-strong, twisty, 3D magnetic fields that its design predicted, with “unprecedented accuracy“. The researchers found an error rate less than one in 100,000.
Wendelstein is the largest and most sophisticated stellarator in the world. Built by the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics in Greifswald Germany, it was completed in 2015 as the vanguard of the stellarator design. Other collaborators on the U.S. team include DOE’s Oak Ridge and Los Alamos National Laboratories, along with Auburn University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Xanthos Technologies.
The W7-X is the most recent version of the stellarator concept, which Lyman Spitzer, a Princeton University astrophysicist and founder of PPPL, originated during the 1950s. Stellarators mostly gave way to tokamaks a decade later, since the doughnut-shaped facilities are simpler to design and build and generally confine plasma better.
But recent advances in plasma theory and computational power have led to renewed interest in stellarators.
To our knowledge, this is an unprecedented accuracy, both in terms of the as-built engineering of a fusion device, as well as in the measurement of magnetic topology
the researchers wrote in Nature Communications.
Nuclear fusion is one of the most promising sources of clean energy out there – with little more than salt water, it offers limitless energy using the same reaction that powers our Sun.
Unlike nuclear fission that involves splitting the nucleus of an atom into smaller neutrons and nuclei, nuclear fusion generates huge amounts of energy when atoms are fused together at incredibly high temperatures. And it produces no radioactive waste or other byproducts.
Based on the longevity of our Sun, nuclear fusion also has the potential to supply humanity with energy for as long as we need it – and of course more safely.
The main challenge is that, in order to achieve controlled nuclear fusion, we have to actually recreate conditions inside the Sun. That means building a machine that’s capable of producing and controlling a 100-million-degree-Celsius (180 million degree Fahrenheit) ball of plasma gas.
Despite this success, W 7-X isn’t actually intended to generate electricity from nuclear fusion – it’s simply a proof of concept to show that it could work.
In 2019, the reactor will begin to use deuterium instead of hydrogen to produce actual fusion reactions inside the machine, but it won’t be capable of generating more energy than it current requires to run.
The real question now is when we will actually benefit of efficient power from this kind of process. For sure we are close enough.