Scientists have taken a big step towards developing a ‘Star in a Jar’ nuclear fusion reactor that can provide Earth with limitless clean energy in the same manner as the Sun and other stars. The Wendelstein 7-X (W7-X) fusion energy device currently operated by Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics in Germany is on track and working as planned, researchers said.
The system, known as a stellerator, generated its first batch of hydrogen plasma when it was first fired up earlier this year. The new tests basically give scientists the green light to proceed to the next stage of the process.
A fusion reactor works by fusing the nuclei of lighter atoms into heavier atoms, unlike a traditional fission reactor which splits atoms of heavy elements to generate energy. The process releases massive amounts of energy and produces no radioactive waste. The “fuel” used in a fusion reactor is simple hydrogen, which can be extracted from water.
However, to achieve fusion, scientists must generate enormously high temperatures to heat the hydrogen into a plasma state, ‘Live Science’ reported. The plasma is so hot, in fact, that it would instantly burn material used to contain it.
That is where the W7-X stellerator design comes in. The device confines the plasma within magnetic fields generated by superconducting coils cooled down to near absolute zero.
The plasma – at temperatures upwards of 80 million degrees Celsius – never comes into contact with the walls of the containment chamber. The W7-X is the world’s largest and most sophisticated stellerator. Its development has been an ongoing, international effort.
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