Fusion Energy will be financially viable, researchers claim
A team of researchers from Durham University and the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in Oxfordshire have published research suggesting that fusion power could generate electricity at a similar price to existing fission plants within a few decades. Their study takes into account recent advances in high temperature superconductors, which could allow the superconductive magnets necessary to keep the hot plasma contained within the reactor to be built in sections rather than as a whole, allowing maintenance on parts of the machine without removing the entire device.
How does it work?
Fusion reactors generate electricity by heating plasma to incredibly high temperatures, causing hydrogen atoms to fuse together and release energy. This is essentially the same process that happens inside the sun. This differs from existing nuclear technology, as fission reactors work by splitting atoms at much lower temperatures. However, heating material to the temperatures necessary for fusion to take place represents an enormous technical challenge, as the plasma must be suspended inside the reactor without coming into contact with the walls of the vessel, since no material can possibly withstand the extreme heat. While this technology is in the experimental stage, and a commercial plant remains decades away, Fusion power has major advantages when compared to current electricity generation methods.
Why is fusion technology important?
Fusion power essentially promises clean and abundant energy. It would produce no greenhouse emissions. The fuel is cheap and virtually infinite, as the deuterium required for the reaction can be obtained from seawater and the second necessary element, tritium, can be created in the reactor. It’s also incredibly efficient, with one kilogram of fusion fuel able to generate the same energy as 10 million kilograms of fossil fuel. There is no chain reaction, making fusion power safe and easier to control than fission, and there would be little radioactive waste from the process. In a world threatened by climate change and over-reliant on finite fossil fuel reserves, it is easy to see why fusion is often considered the holy grail of electricity generation technology, and why billions of dollars have already been spent on research. However, it remains unknown whether commercial fusion power is technically achievable, even if it may be economically viable.
While fusion power could bring enormous benefits to the world in the future, our increasing appetite for power during the present and our increasing awareness of the need to reduce emissions continue to drive innovation within existing technology and expansion of electrical infrastructure. If you’re an engineer looking for a new opportunity within the industry, browse our power and renewable energy jobs.