EuroFusion, a European consortium, has taken a crucial step on the long journey to commercially viable nuclear fusion.
According to a press release, the consortium has just announced the beginning of a five-year "conceptual design" phase for its DEMOnstration power plant.
Scientists are working on a European demonstration power facility that they hope will eventually enable net nuclear fusion energy, the much-hyped strategy to end our dependence on fossil fuels by providing practically unlimited energy.
The DEMO nuclear fusion facility is currently in the conceptual design stage.
Nuclear fusion is the way the sun and stars make electricity. It occurs when two atoms smash against each other to form a larger nucleus, releasing enormous amounts of energy in the process. Scientists have largely experimented with circular nuclear fusion reactors, called tokamaks, that contain the amount of burning plasma necessary for the reaction to take place.
The DEMO power facility from EuroFusion is planned to be a 300 to 500 megawatt tokamak, which the group has described as a "first-of-its-kind facility that represents the next technological step following the global ITER fusion experiment."
The consortium stated in its statement that DEMO's conceptual design phase "charts a route of scientific and engineering research from the basic science at current devices, through to designing the demonstration fusion power plant DEMO, capable of net electricity production shortly after the middle of the century." The organization specifically set out the date 2054 as its objective for commercial fusion energy.
DEMO will demonstrate new technologies such as remote maintenance and tritium breeding, which will enable operators to produce tritium fusion fuel on-site in the future.
The world's largest fusion experiment is being adapted.
EuroFusion presented the findings of its pre-concept design phase, which took place between 2014 and 2020. This included power exhaust, tritium breeding, and robust magnet designs.
"The DEMO design and R&D activities in Europe are greatly benefitting from the experience gained from the designing, licensing, and construction of ITER," according to EuroFusion's statement. However, they caution that work on facilities such as DEMO must begin shortly after ITER's key findings, to avoid a "brain drain" from nuclear fusion to other industries.
ITER is the world's largest nuclear fusion facility, situated in southern France, and is part of a collaboration between 35 partner countries, including all of the EU, China, India, Japan, Russia, and the United States. Its main aim is to demonstrate that nuclear fusion is safe and commercially viable. If all goes to plan, humanity will have discovered a new strategy to reliably harvest vast amounts of energy without harming the planet.