Chinese Fusion Test Creates 50 Million°C for 102 Seconds

By Jamie Condliffe on at

Tests at a fusion reactor in China have hit a major milestone. The experiments have created plasma with a temperature of 49.999 million°C —hotter than the core of our Sun — and sustained the state for over a minute and a half.

The experiments were carried out in the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak — known as EAST. Its design uses a doughnut-shaped reactor in which incredibly hot plasma resides. Careful control of intense magnetic fields allows the plasma to be contained in a tight ring running through the centre of the doughnut’s circular cross section, which means that the walls of the structure are never directly exposed to the high temperatures of the plasma.

Ensuring those temperatures can be sustained for long enough is essential to creating energy, which is the long-term goal of such fusion reactors. We’d need the reactions to run for long period of time, because getting them started requires a huge input of energy: if they stall too soon, the reaction is net negative in energy terms. But controlling such intense heat is difficult, because such high energies causes great instabilities that are hard to confine. So running an experiment at such temperatures for 102 seconds is undoubtedly a positive step.

The news comes on the back of successful tests at the Max Planck Institute in Greifswald just last week, where hydrogen fuel was used for the first time in its Wendelstein 7-X stellarator.

It’s not the hottest temperature every created on Earth. That accolade goes to the scorching conditions created by the LHC, which managed to create a plasma “soup” of sub-atomic gluons and quarks with an estimated temperature of 10 trillion°F. That’s somewhere in the region of 250,000 times hotter than the centre of the sun. But those conditions last for the merest flicker of time, which is useless for actually creating energy.

Indeed, the consensus amongst most scientists suggests that the long-yet-intense burn required for fusion needs to be around 90 million°C — so we still have some way to go. Indeed, consensus seems to suggest that it’ll be a decade or more before one of these rigs is capable of actually producing electricity for general us.

But for now, we can celebrate a positive week for fusion science. [South China Morning Post via Tech Insider]

Image by Institute of Plasma Physics Chinese Academy of Sciences