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2025 might deliver Fusion Power … or so it seems

The first Japanese winding pack was cold tested in October in this purpose-built cryogenic chamber at Mitsubishi. In a final step before shipment to ITER, the winding pack will be inserted in its structural case. Image credit: ITER

Fusion Power has been a holy grail for harvesting energy that has remained at the end of the rainbow. This might change in the coming decade as ITER prepares to deliver, on schedule, its prototype fusion reactor.

In December a team of researchers working at the UK Atomic Energy Laboratories have found out how to dissipate the enormous heat (in the order of 100 M degrees C, hotter than the Sun). They have created a wall for the fusion reactor made of a special material that will slowly evaporate thus dissipate the heat created at the fusion core.

A fusion reactor (the most credited architecture is the tokamak, a torus shaped cavity) uses hot (very hot indeed) plasma that is contained in a limited space by extremely strong magnetic fields so that it can both keeps its temperature (needed for sustaining the fusion reaction -it has to be hotter than the Sun since it operates at a lower pressure than in the Sun) and avoid melting what is around it. Still the amount of heat dissipation is huge and it has been a major stumbling block in the construction of a workable reactor.

The wall created by the UK researchers may be the long sought solution to this problem. It is not the only problem that needs to be solved but the general consensus among scientists working on ITER is that by 2025 we will have the first fusion reactor that will be able to produce more power than the one it has to use to operate (the goal is 10 times as much).

Beware, that will be just a prototype. If all goes well it will open the door to industrial manufacturing and to clean and abundant power in the second half of this century.
That will clearly be a major, disruptive change that will impact the economics world wide.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. He's currently the Chair of the Symbiotic Autonomous Systems Initiative of IEEE-FDC. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and up to September 2018 he was the Head of the EIT Digital Industrial Doctoral School. Previously, up to December 2011, he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books. He writes a daily blog,  http://sites.ieee.org/futuredirections/category/blog/, with commentary on innovation in various technology and market areas.

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