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Researchers use superconducting material to make clean fusion energy breakthrough: 'Virtually limitless power production'

"[This is] the most important thing, in my opinion, in the last 30 years of fusion research."

"[This is] the most important thing, in my opinion, in the last 30 years of fusion research."

Photo Credit: MIT

Scientists at the MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center reached what university press described as a "major milestone" in the realm of fusion power plants. The breakthrough could "usher in an era of virtually limitless power production," MIT News wrote.

The crux of the breakthrough is a magnet, but not just any magnet. The scientists created a new type of magnet that broke the world record for magnetic field strength, according to MIT News. ​​Made from a high-temperature superconducting material, the magnet has a strength of 20 tesla. (For reference, a common refrigerator magnet is around 0.001 tesla, while the incredibly strong magnets used in MRI machines are 3 tesla.)

One of the steps that allowed the scientists to create such a ridiculously powerful magnet was the elimination of insulation around the layers of material used to form the device. This was, apparently, an outside-the-box idea in the world of super-magnet creation.

"This was the first magnet at any sufficient scale that really probed what is involved in designing and building and testing a magnet with this so-called no-insulation no-twist technology," said Zach Hartwig, a professor in the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT. "It was very much a surprise to the community when we announced that it was a no-insulation coil."

As MIT News reported, the upshot of all this is that the magnet could be used to do something that has never been done before: build a fusion power plant that creates more energy than it consumes, producing electricity with no planet-overheating gas pollution and minimal radioactive waste.

"[This is] the most important thing, in my opinion, in the last 30 years of fusion research," said professor Dennis Whyte, who recently stepped down as the leader of the Plasma Science and Fusion Center.

While clean, renewable energy sources such as wind and solar tend to own a larger share of the headlines, there is a big push among the scientific community to look toward fusion as the power source of the future. That is not, of course, to say that investment in those energy sources is mutually exclusive. All of them can and should be pursued.

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