DEVENS, MASSACHUSETTS — Welcome to the future, a future not so distant, judging by the progress made here, John Kerry said Tuesday. Decades of investment are transforming nuclear fusion from an experiment to an emerging climate solution. L’Joe Biden’s special envoy for climate together with Eni CEO Claudio Descalzi, spoke to journalists during a visit to Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS), a spin-off of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Devens, an hour from Boston, in the presence of the Italian ambassador to Washington Mariangela Zappia and the former US ambassador to Italy and his dear friend David Thorne.
With 600 employees, two billion dollars from private investors including the major Eni (alongside Bill Gates, Google and others) and collaborations with international public bodies, CFS is the largest nuclear fusion company in the world. CEO Bob Mumgaard called Kerry and Descalzi two individuals who contributed enormously to the development of this technology based on the physical principle that powers the Sun and other stars. Kerry, visibly enthusiastic about visiting the hangar where the prototype of the plant will be built for the production of fusion energy, nor is he a sort of godfather, because as a senator from Massachusetts he avoided cuts in federal funds to MIT which conducted the research that led to the birth of CFS in 2018. He now believes that commercialization can happen in a matter of years rather than decades. Yesterday, the US climate envoy announced that the United States will present an international strategy for commercializing nuclear fusion energy for the first time at the COP28 summit in Dubai starting November 30, where he will call for greater international cooperation.
The construction of the first plant
Nuclear fusion would make it possible to produce clean and virtually unlimited energy, with no carbon emissions and no long-term radioactive waste. completely different from fission (with the breaking of two heavy atoms), which makes current nuclear power plants work. But replicating the fusion process on Earth is a challenge. Cfs’ current objective is to build the first experimental plant that will demonstrate a net energy gain compared to that used by the machine. The machine, under construction in a 9 by 9 meter hangar in Devens, is called Sparc: expected to be completed in 2025, and should serve as a testbed for the development of Arc, the first industrial-scale fusion power plant, expected to be built by the early 2030s. site search underway: reasonable think that the first will be in the USA and it is not excluded that in the future it could also be Italy’s turn but we need to overcome, as Descalzi said, the culture of saying no to everything.
Commitment to decarbonisation
Kerry praised Eni together with BP, Total and Equinor, as the few oil companies truly committed to decarbonisation. Our strong, profound and irreversible commitment – said Descalzi -. Eni wants to reach net zero in 2050. The six-legged dog believes that the fusion will be one of several renewable sources. In Italy, adds Descalzi, a referendum for nuclear fusion will probably not be necessary, but a culture of acceptance will be needed. The ongoing experimentation is very advanced. In the reactor the hydrogen isotopes (deuterium and tritium) which are in a plasma state (the fourth state of matter) merge to release an enormous amount of energy. Given the very high temperatures of over 100 million degrees Celsius, it is necessary to create a plasma confinement mechanism, for example through high magnetic fields. In 2021, CFS reached a critical milestone with the testing of a high-temperature, high-field superconducting magnet, a critical step toward the first commercial fusion energy facility.
Last December the United States Department of Energy announced a historic turning point: the self-ignition of plasma through very powerful lasers had been demonstrated on a scientific basis, even if the net energy gain is very small. All the activity so far has involved machines that run for a fraction of a second. The challenge is to overcome these limitations to achieve production compatible with industrial production. There are doubts in the scientific community about the actual timing of the transition to the production of electricity for commercial purposes. But Descalzi replies: We are not known for putting money into projects we are not convinced about.
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