Maker Faire: Race for nuclear fusion accelerates, Italy and MIT to have first plant by 2025 | Technology

The world is accelerating in its search for renewable, green and safe source of energy Nuclear fusion. While the United Kingdom plans to build the first reactor prototype in 2032, ITER (a consortium of three continents building the largest complex in France) is struggling to meet the deadline within this decade, as confirmed by Monica Spada, head of research and technological innovation at the Italian company in collaboration with the Italian energy group Eni, “in 2025 in the United States It will have its first plant,” assures the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Maker make (Creators’ Fair), closed in Rome on Sunday. The global energy crisis has turned the scientific marathon of trying to replicate the sun’s power into a sprint.

Nuclear fusion is the door to a global hope, as Spada recalls Eni’s founder Enrico Mate: “Bringing Energy for all, in a sustainable manner, is a common good“. To this end, attempts are made to reproduce a solar phenomenon by combining two nuclei of light atoms to form another nucleus, which releases energy. Deuterium and tritium, the most abundant isotopes of hydrogen on Earth, are currently used. Both create a new particle that emits 17.6 mega electron volts [MeV], meaning that 2.5 grams of both produces the same amount of energy as a football field full of coal. Its capacity is 10⁷ higher than any fossil fuel.

The main problems are the high pressure and temperature of the fusion plasma (a reactor’s fuel), which is higher than the Sun: 200 million degrees at the center. Current research attempts to confine this plasma in magnetic cages in a vacuum inside the reactor to minimize the effects of wall contact and avoid fluctuations.

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For Spada, the necessary technology is already mature, and it plans to set up its first plant in the United States within three years. Eni is part of the Commonwealth Fusion System, formed a corporation out of MIT in 2018: “We started working on this project because we first realized there was a lot of potential. We are working hard to make it a reality as soon as possible. The first Spark plant will be in 2025, and although it will not be connected to the grid by that date, it will be the first prototype. Spark is a compact net fusion device, medium in size but with a very strong magnetic field. A complete energy distribution system is expected to be in place by 2028.

For this, it is necessary to overcome another challenge, once contained: the energy produced is greater than that used to achieve fusion. The team of Combined European Taurus (JET), led by the United Kingdom, achieved a record earlier in the year: 59 megajoules for five seconds, equivalent to the energy needed to boil 60 kettles of water. Although this may not seem like much, it doubles the record achieved 25 years ago, which supports the design of current reactors and shows a way to make them more efficient.

Eni’s confidence in nuclear fusion has led it to erect its largest individual pavilion at Rome’s Maker Faire, the largest European technology exhibition organized by the Italian capital’s Chamber of Commerce, with funding from the European Union, among other institutions. Which EL PAÍS is invited? Installation created by architects Carlo Ratti And Italo Rota (authors of their country’s pavilion at the 2020 Dubai Expo), simulates a trip inside a magnetic cage. “Visitors will feel like particles of integration”, sums up Ratti.

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Two visitors to the Maker Faire in Rome, inside a magnetic cage simulator.

“It’s like a Teaser [una pequeña muestra] At a scale where the public can access and understand the process. The key is to ensure that the visitor interacts with reality, so that they can understand how to improve thanks to science. “We wanted to tell the story, but also make sure the viewer can see it and get into it,” explains the architect.

Another challenge is to develop a message for a diverse audience, from high school and high school students to experts and businessmen meeting with the technology of the future in Rome. “A middle ground needs to be reached between what is comprehensible, but not simplistic,” adds Rutty.

He is also convinced of the future of nuclear fusion, with hundreds of companies and scientists working on it, including materials experts in everything from physics to engineering. Like them, he warns, the nuclear solution will not be unique. “There is not going to be a single source of energy. There will be an essential mix to decarbonize the planet. “Nuclear is going to be one more,” he comments.

His vision for the increasingly immediate future is that these diverse amenities are “going to be embedded daily in cities, in the urban landscape,” according to the potential of each area. Not only in big capitals, Ratti believes that “Europe and America do not need to develop big cities because their population is starting to decline.” “We are involved in new projects related to urban agriculture. Making everything more sustainable is at the heart of what architecture should do today”, he concludes.

Italo Rota He adds that partnership is the foundation of this new future, “where technology is very important.” This is one of the key elements in the design of the nuclear fusion reactor simulator: “People understand not only the charging of an electric car, but the whole process, for example, where it is made, how it is distributed, how it is consumed.”

Rota resists the change of individual mentality in favor of collective transformations and integration of technology with nature. “Many elements of life are in technology, it is part of life. For cities, the body of the population must have many solutions, and a balance must be found.

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