British company’s breakthrough could cut fusion costs in half

A British company claims its new technology could cut fusion development costs in half.

Tokamak Energy has a new design for cryogenic, or very low temperature, power electronics technology for the high-efficiency operation of its superconducting magnets. A Tokamak press release claims its novel power converter inside a vacuum cryostat can reduce the heat load from a tokamak fusion reactor by 50%.

“This means we have the potential to reduce cryogenic capital and running costs for HTS magnets, by 50%, or more,” Tokamak CEO Chris Kelsall boasts. Most fusion reactor designs use high-temperature superconducting (HTS) magnets to generate magnetic fields to contain plasma.

100 million degrees Centigrade

They need HTS magnets because the super-hot plasma material they use in fusion reactors can melt any material. To explain, they need to heat plasma to temperatures of 100 million degrees centigrade to trigger fusion. Kelsall says Tokamak’s new power converter reduces costs by running 50% cooler than competing designs.

Hence, the new converter will make fusion development cheaper and faster by cutting costs and electric bills. Oxford based Tokamak Energy is developing the ST40 prototype reactor in collaboration with the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.

The ST40 heated plasma to temperatures of 15 million degrees Celsius. Tokamak claims that temperature is hotter than the center of the sun. The goal at Tokamak is to demonstrate a commercial fusion reactor by the 2030s.

The ST40 includes a spherical tokamak HTS magnet system they call Demo4. Tokamak and the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) are developing HTS magnets they can scale to fusion power modules. Tokamak executives consider HTS magnets a critical component of fusion reactors.

HTS Magnets can create fusion

Tokamaks are a fusion reactor design that has been around since the 1960s. However, the technology to make tokamaks practical has only been available for the past few years.

They build HTS magnets from rare earth minerals, including copper barium oxide, fashioned into strips that are less than 0.1 millimeter in thickness. One of Tokamak Energy’s goals is to make HTS magnets smaller and more powerful.

If Tokamak Energy’s claims are true. The United Kingdom could lead the race to commercialize fusion.