A top secret Los Angeles company are very close to making nuclear fusion a reality.
Nuclear fusion has no carbon emissions, is energy efficient (one kilogram of fusion fuel can provide the same amount of energy as 10 million kilograms of fossil fuel), leaves no radioactive waste, is cheap to produce, and is very safe to use.
Tri Alpha Energy Incorporated was founded in 1998 by two plasma physicists, and have recently made a breakthrough discovery with their colliding beam fusion reactor.
Using a machine roughly the same size two large buses, scientists have managed to temporarily stabilize the super-heated plasma.
The machine works with the use of plasma guns mounted to opposite ends. Firing two beams of gas into each other at almost one million kilometers an hour, the resulting blob of plasma is held within a central chamber, heated to almost 10 million degrees Celsius.
The fusion of ions in that process converts mass into energy, creating fusion power.
Of course, with temperatures that high, the gas naturally burns through any kind of physical container. The future of fusion must rely on magnetic fields to keep the plasma suspended, and in previous tests, keeping that plasma blob from simply falling apart has proven difficult.
But this week, the team had a breakthrough, using angled particle beams to hold the plasma in place.
“Until you learn to control and tame [the hot gas], it’s never going to work,” Jaeyong Park, head of Energy/Matter Conversion Corporation, told Science Magazine.
“In that regard, it’s a big deal. They seem to have found a way to tame it.”
Of course, that plasma was only held in place for approximately five milliseconds. Still, that’s longer than any previous attempts, and it could have theoretically gone even longer if the machine had not run out of fuel.
“In 8 years they went from an empty room to an FRC lasting 5 milliseconds,” plasma physicist David Hammer told Science Magazine. “That’s pretty good progress.”
The company’s next step is to maintain that stability longer. If successful, it could be a major sign of progress. While a number of experts in the field were beginning to consider that the hardware required to effectively create fusion power would far outweigh the benefits, Tri Alpha’s technology could do so in a practical, affordable manner.
We’re still a long way from being able to power an Iron Man suit, but limitless, affordable energy could be a major boon to humanity, and could one day be a reality.