For the first time ever, researchers in China have officially turned on their “artificial sun” nuclear fusion reactor.
Fusion is what powers our sun, and scientists consider it the “holy grail” of energy production . This makes it one of the only potential alternatives for producing energy on a larger scale . If this reactor is successful, it could have massive implications for the sustainable energy industry.
What is China’s “Artificial Sun”?
In short, this artificial sun is a tokamak, or a nuclear fusion experimental research device. The term “tokamak” comes from shortening the Russian words for “toroidal magnetic confinement”. Essentially, it is a torus (that is the math term for donut) that traps extremely hot plasma and presses it into making chemical reactions .
Here’s how the artificial sun tokamak works:
- Air and impurities are removed from the doughnut-shaped vacuum chamber.
- Scientists charge up the massive magnetic coils that surround the chamber.
- They then introduce a gaseous hydrogen fuel into the chamber.
- A powerful electrical current runs through the vessel, turning the gas into a hot, electrically charged gas, aka plasma.
- As the plasma particles gain energy, they collide and also begin to heat up. Supplementary heating methods help make the plasma hot enough for fusion. This is between 150 and 300 million degrees celsius.
- This high temperature causes the particles to fuse, which releases huge amounts of energy .
Hundreds of labs around the world have been experimenting with small tokamaks for decades. The magnetic fields around the devices, however, are prone to imperfections, and controlling them is very challenging. Studying tokamaks has taken many years, and has often seemed impossible to implement on a larger scale.
China’s artificial sun, however, is proving that large-scale energy production using a tokamak may be possible.