Anyone who has watched Iron Man will remember that ARC Reactor glowing on his chest. In the movie, there is little explanation of how this fictional technology works, but it is quite ingenious. Like in the fiction, there are some people like Tony Stark in real life as well, who are always seeking innovation and technology to improve things in real life and among these people are the engineers at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology).
A new magnet technology is the start of an innovative modular fusion ARC reactor that generates the same amount of energy as much larger designs. Obviously, this compact reactor is not as small as the one seen in Iron Man, but the MIT researchers believe that this new concept could become the main source of clean, renewable energy in the world in 10 years.
Fusion reactions occur when hydrogen atoms collide with each other at very high temperatures to form helium. These atomic combinations are accompanied by a tremendous energy release, which becomes self-sustaining at higher temperatures. But the challenge has always been to confine hydrogen plasma, which is as hot as the Sun’s core. Powerful magnetic fields seem to be the answer, but, traditionally, we need very large reactors to produce them.
The proposed reactor, described in Fusion Engineering and Design, uses new commercially available superconductors made of rare-earth barium copper oxide (REBCO) superconducting tapes, producing self-sustaining fusion energy in reactors much smaller than the ones already created. The researchers claim the new magnets can release ten times more energy than the standard superconducting technology, and they can run for long periods of time without overheating.
“Fusion energy is certain to be the most important source of electricity on earth in the 22nd century, but we need it much sooner than that to avoid catastrophic global warming,” says David Kingham, CEO of Tokamak Energy, who was not connected with this research. “This paper shows a good way to make quicker progress.”
Read more on MIT’s modular fusion ARC reactor here.