Fusion energy nears reality thanks to an ultra-powerful magnet

The technology could be key to practical fusion power plants.

Gretchen Ertl, CFS/MIT-PSFC, 2021

Fusion energy just had its second breakthrough in as many months. Motherboard notes an MIT- and Commonwealth Fusion Systems-led research team has successfully demonstrated a high-temperature superconducting electromagnet producing a field strength of 20 tesla — the most powerful field of its kind on Earth. The technology could be the key to SPARC, a fusion device due in 2025 that could foster a plasma field producing more energy than it consumes.

Systems based on superconducting electromagnets aren't new. The under-construction ITER device in France will use low-temperature superconductors. However, the MIT-CFS hardware's high-temperature technology (built using a ribbon-like tape material) allows for much stronger magnetic fields. It can match the field of a low-temperature magnet system 40 times its size, according to MIT.

SPARC and its net positive energy output would be just the start. MIT and CFS still plan to develop a fusion power plant, ARC, that might go online as soon as 2033. Should that happen, fusion energy would finally become a practical reality — just in time to help a world transitioning to electric vehicles that demand more from power grids.