New Zealand's strongest magnet heads stateside for fusion research

A NEW Zealand university has just shipped one of the most important components for new fusion technology in an incredibly powerful magnet designed to keep 200 million centigrade plasma corralled.
New Zealand's strongest magnet heads stateside for fusion research New Zealand's strongest magnet heads stateside for fusion research New Zealand's strongest magnet heads stateside for fusion research New Zealand's strongest magnet heads stateside for fusion research New Zealand's strongest magnet heads stateside for fusion research

Holy Grail fusion energy step closer with magnet tech. Source: MIT 

Helen Clark

Editor

The Robinson Research Institute at the University of Wellington has sent New Zealand's strongest magnet to the United States to progress the fusion power dreams of Commonwealth Fusion Systems, which has backing from Bill Gates, Amazon's Jeff Bezos and Italian oil company Eni, which funded the research with US$50 million last March. 

CFS works with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on the research. 
"Fusion is the true energy source of the future, as it is completely sustainable, does not release emissions or long-term waste, and is potentially inexhaustible," Eni CEO Claudio Descalzi said then. 
 
Fusion has been the great white hope, or elephant, of energy development for decades. It promises clean and limitless power while never actually delivering. 
 
MIT vice president of research Maria T. Zuber wrote in a Boston Globe op-ed last year that "the sardonic quip has been that it's always 30 years away". 
 
If solar power seems intuitive then fusion is the next step: why not use the sun's energy process and not its energy to power the planet? 
 
Very simplistically the sun, and all stars, are essentially giant rectors that convert the universe's most abundant element - hydrogen - into helium via ‘fusing' the atoms together and generating temperatures of hundreds of millions of degrees in the process. 
 
On Earth scientists try replicate this via using plasmas. 
 
"The main problem has been to get plasmas to generate more energy than it takes to run them," she wrote then. 
 
Plasmas are a kind of "gaseous soup of subatomic particles" but also need a lot of space, making scaling down the tech important before the emissions-free process can be scaled up. 
 
The breakthrough came via MIT research that has allowed high temperature superconductors to create magnetic fields that can confine the plasma, in turn allowing the size of the fusion tech to drop to something more manageable. 
 
It is the magnets that are central to this technology as they also keep the ‘soup' in place given any physical container would melt. 
 
Researchers at the institute have developed a SuperCurrent superconducting wire characterisation system which incorporates a 12-tesla superconducting magnet designed and built by Robinson's spin-off company HTS-110 Limited.
 
Robinson suggests the system also features possibly the highest magnetic field achieved anywhere in the world to date using this type of conductor. 
 
This magnet will help to measure the electric current capacity of superconductor wires to be used in their tokamak coils, which confine the plasma for the fusion reaction.
 
"It is crucial to understand the capacity of the wires in the coils, so that they can operate safely and efficiently in generating the magnetic fields needed for fusion," it said. 
 
"This system is unique in allowing measurements in the temperature and magnetic field range close to where fusion systems will operate. The automation incorporated in the system will allow for the fast throughput required to effectively characterise the large amounts of wire used in fusion magnets," Robinson principal scientist and co-creator of the system Dr Stuart Wimbush said.