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MIT researchers say nuclear fusion will feed the grid "in 15 years"

09 March 2018

MIT says its new venture will use "advances in high-temperature superconductors" to contain the fierce reactions more effectively than existing setups, allowing higher temperatures and net energy production.

The collaboration between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Commonwealth Fusion, an MIT spinout based in Cambridge, Mass., came to light today after years of work behind the scenes.

Commonwealth Fusion CEO Robert Mumgaard said his company plans to crack the controlled-fusion puzzle "by leveraging the science that's already developed, collaborating with the right partners and tackling the problems step by step".

"This is an important historical moment: Advances in superconducting magnets have put fusion energy potentially within reach, offering the prospect of a safe, carbon-free energy future", said MIT president L. Rafael Reif in the announcement. Thanks to the development of a new superconductor, the team believes that they can have a working fusion power plant on-grid within the next 15 years. However, the field of fusion research is littered with failed predictions.

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Achieving sustainable fusion in commercial reactors could open up an era of relatively cheap, relatively clean, limitless power.

While US president Donald Trump's plan to pull funding from a massive global nuclear fusion research project threatens to derail years of research, a new project between MIT researchers and private partners suggests a somewhat radically different approach. MIT's planned Sparc reactor will be one sixty-fifth of the volume of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) being built in France, but is hoping to produce 100MW, or about one fifth of ITER's output.

Other big European oil companies, like Shell, Statoil or Total, focus their future decarbonization strategies more on renewable energies like offshore wind or solar.

If successful, the team estimates that it could be able to bring nuclear fusion power to the grid in as little as 15 years, twice as fast as some analysts have thought.

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CFS was created by a group of former MIT scientists and researchers who have been involved in plasma physics and fusion processes research for years, the statement said.

In Italy, which rejected the development of nuclear power in a referendum in 1987 following the Chernobyl disaster, renewable energy initiatives are mainly driven by utility Enel and its global Enel Green Power unit.

Italian oil major Eni plans to invest $50 million into a USA research project into nuclear fusion, it said Friday.

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MIT researchers say nuclear fusion will feed the grid