Next generation fusion devices offer the promise of clean, efficient energy on a scale current technologies and approaches can’t offer. There are a number of fusion systems under development today, leveraging multiple technical concepts at the core of the design to achieve the plasma reaction required. The recent advances in all areas of fusion have gained significant attention in the market. Investors such as Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Jack Ma have been involved in providing significant funding for fusion projects pursuing the creation of a commercially viable fusion power generation facility. Various approaches include laser designs, magnetic targeted fusion, Tokamak fusion magnets, and several other novel techniques.
Innovative approaches to electric load balancing are required for future electric grids
Renewables are changing the world for the better with more being added daily. The ongoing evolution of the power grid requires a balanced network where available power supply matches power demand. As solar power is only generated during the day, and wind power when the wind is blowing, additional solutions are necessary. This can be accomplished by keeping legacy sources of power in the network for load balancing, or by trying a new approach such as clean energy storage and fusion energy generation, which emit no carbon dioxide or waste byproducts with 24/7 availability.
Tokamak Fusion Magnets
Tokamak architectures are of particular interest to STI as they utilize ultra-high-performance magnets to contain the plasma. Tokamak designs have been under development for a number of years and represent a very significant portion of the funding to date to develop a fusion device. The most notable recent example is the ITER project – a $20 billion Tokamak fusion program that uses superconducting magnets 15.5 meters in height. The ITER system is expected to be the first fusion system to produce more power than it uses, a watershed achievement for the technology.
The development of this system began in 2006, utilizing the best superconducting materials available at that time. ITER is now 50% built and is scheduled to become operational in 2025.
It is important to note that since 2006 dramatic performance improvements have occurred with the advent of high-performance 2G HTS wire. Many industry experts believe that this new wire will allow Tokamak designs that are significantly smaller, addressing a huge current barrier to future commercialization.
The main benefit derived from 2G HTS wire is to increase the electrical field for the superconducting magnets, thereby delivering the magnetic strength needed in a much smaller package. Conductus® wire brings superior power density performance to magnet applications. Another important element is the ability to operate at a higher temperature of 20 Kelvin versus the legacy 4 Kelvin. This temperature increase reduces the cost, complexity, and size of the overall cryo-cooling subsystems.
Fusion projects have been under development by governments and educational institutions for several decades. Billions of dollars have been invested to date into the fundamental science and physics surrounding fusion. Many technologies have taken giant leaps forward during the ensuing years, from computer processing power to the discovery of advanced materials. The technology utilized to make superconducting wire has similarly made great advances during that time.
Early fusion projects utilized low-temperature superconducting materials. As high-temperature superconducting materials emerged, scientist began to incorporate HTS where it provided a distinct advantage. In recent years, it has become evident that the second generation of HTS materials provides a significant advantage for fusion projects, especially techniques that value very strong magnets. Due to the superior current density of the 2G HTS materials, for the first-time designers see a path to the construction of a magnet powerful enough for the application yet compact enough to make the overall device a manageable size.