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Chinese company achieves breakthrough in race to fusion — here's why it's a major step toward unlimited affordable power

"Reducing the size and price of tokamaks is ideal for making the technology commercial."

"Reducing the size and price of tokamaks is ideal for making the technology commercial."

Photo Credit: Energy Singularity

A Chinese company with big goals has joined the push for commercial fusion power, which would revolutionize the transition to carbon-free energy production.

Energy Singularity has built in Shanghai what is "the world's first high-temperature superconducting tokamak device," Interesting Engineering reported. The contraptions are known as "artificial suns" because they replicate the nuclear fusion of hydrogen atoms that occurs on the sun.

A tokamak is a doughnut-shaped, or toroidal, apparatus that controls such reactions in superheated plasma via magnets. The reaction creates helium and releases energy — without the risk or production of radioactive waste that comes from nuclear fission.

This tokamak, called Honghuang 70, was designed and installed in less than two years, the Global Times reported. Energy Singularity, which is only three years old, also has plans to develop a second-generation tokamak by 2027 and a technology demonstrator by 2030, as IE reported. 

These steps would all but eliminate the need to use dirty energy, which is sourced from coal, gas, and oil and releases gases into the atmosphere that damage our health and heat the planet. This causes more frequent and severe weather events such as droughts, floods, and wildfires.

The main problem with clean-energy nuclear fusion is that it takes massive amounts of energy to produce a reaction. This input-output ratio is measured by Q value, and the highest figure to date is 1.53. Energy Singularity hopes to produce a Q value of 10, per IE.

One of the features of the HH70 is that it's much smaller than most tokamaks. It's also cheaper, according to IE, because its magnetic system is composed of rare earth barium copper oxide, a high-temperature superconductor that is commercially available. 

"Additionally, the company claims that the material allows it to make its tokamaks at only two percent of the volume of conventional tokamaks," Interesting Engineering reported. "Reducing the size and price of tokamaks is ideal for making the technology commercial, with the only hurdle being the net output from the reaction."

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