Nuclear fusion could satisfy humanity's thirst for clean energy - if only it weren't so incredibly difficult to achieve. In Greifswald, the physicists now want to test the Wendelstein 7-X research reactor in continuous operation.
After the completion of the Wendelstein 7-X fusion research reactor in Greifswald, Federal Research Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger will open the next phase of the experiments next Tuesday. Nuclear fusion in the reactor is intended to replicate the processes in the sun, but the technology is still in the research stage. In perspective, nuclear fusion should make a contribution to climate-neutral energy production.
Physicists have been dreaming of this for decades - and their hopes are correspondingly high. When Wendelstein 7-X was put into operation in 2016, then Chancellor Angela Merkel also came. The fusion device is the largest of its kind of the stellarator type. According to the assumption of the Greifswald researchers, this could be run in a power plant in continuous operation and thus be superior to the pulse-operated fusion type "Tokamak". According to the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics, continuous operation is the "essential property" of the stellarator.
In the "Ostsee-Zeitung" Thomas Klinger from the institute in Greifswald formulated the aim of the experiments planned from autumn. "We want to generate plasma pulses of up to 30 minutes in length at 50 million degrees in the facility," he said. "With this we would show that the fusion type 'stellarator' is suitable for continuous operation." Plasma pulses of this length and these temperatures have never been generated anywhere else in the world.
The maximum values would be around 100 seconds. However, Wendelstein 7-X does not yet generate fusion energy. The system is too small for that, said Klinger in the interview. A significantly larger machine is required to generate energy from nuclear fusion. In his own words, Klinger expects a fusion power plant to actually supply cities, households and businesses with electricity and heat in the second half of this century. "Maybe as early as 2060."
(This article was first published on Friday, August 05, 2022.)