After decades of nuclear fusion power being always ten years away, suddenly we are looking at a handful of endeavours striving to be the first to Q > 1, the moment when a nuclear fusion reactor will produce more power than is required to drive the fusion process in the first place. At this point the Joint European Torus (JET) reactor holds the world record with a Q of 0.67.
At the same time, a large international group is busily constructing the massive ITER tokamak test reactor in France, although it won’t begin fusion experiments until the mid-2030s. The idea is that ITER will provide the data required to construct the first DEMO reactors that might see viable commercial fusion as early as the 2040s, optimistically.
And then there’s Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS), a fusion energy startup. Where CFS differs is that they don’t seek to go big, but instead try to make a tokamak system that’s affordable, compact and robust. With their recent demonstration of a 20 Tesla (T) high-temperature superconducting (HTS) rare-earth barium copper oxide (ReBCO) magnet field coil, they made a big leap towards their demonstration reactor: SPARC.
A Story of Tokamaks
CFS didn’t appear out of nowhere. Their roots lie in the nuclear fusion research performed since the 1960s at MIT, when a scientist called Bruno Coppi was working on the Alcator A (Alto Campo Toro being Italian for High Field Torus) tokamak, which saw first plasma in 1972. After a brief period with a B-revision of Alcator, the Alcator C was constructed with a big power supply upgrade. Continue reading “Commonwealth Fusion’s 20 Tesla Magnet: A Bright SPARC Towards Fusion’s Future”
It looks more like a charcoal briquette than anything, but the black brittle thing at the bottom of [Ben Krasnow]’s crucible is actually a superconducting ceramic that can levitate magnets when it’s sitting in liquid nitrogen. And with [Ben]’s help, you can make some too.
Superconductors that can work at the relatively high temperature of liquid nitrogen instead of ultracold liquid helium are pretty easy to come by commercially, so if you’re looking to just float a few magnets, it would be a lot easier to just hit eBay. But getting there is half the fun, and from the look of the energetic reaction in the video below, [Ben] had some fun with this. The superconductor in question here is a mix of yttrium, barium, and copper oxide that goes by the merciful acronym YBCO.
The easy way to make YBCO involves multiple rounds of pulverizing yttrium oxide, barium
chloride carbonate, and copper oxide together and heating them in a furnace. That works, sort of, but [Ben] wanted more, so he performed a pyrophoric reaction instead. By boiling down an aqueous solution of the three components, a thick sludge results that eventually self-ignites in a spectacular way. The YBCO residue is cooked in a kiln with oxygen blowing over it, and the resulting puck has all the magical properties of superconductors. There’s a lot of detail in the video, and the experiments [Ben] does with his YBCO are pretty fascinating too.
Things are always interesting in [Ben Krasnow]’s life, and there seem to be few areas he’s not interested in. Of course we’ve seen his DIY CAT scanner, his ruby laser, and recently, his homemade photochromic glass.
Continue reading “Cook Up Your Own High-Temperature Superconductors”