Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) report that high-temperature superconducting magnets are ready for fusion, The_Byte writes.

MIT first announced a breakthrough in fusion energy two years ago. New research shows that fusion using superconducting magnets is not only possible, but even profitable.

These findings stem from a comprehensive report containing six separate studies published this month in the IEEE Journal evaluating the feasibility of the superconducting magnets used by MIT scientists in their landmark test conducted in September 2021.

“Overnight, it basically changed the cost per watt of a fusion reactor by a factor of almost 40 in one day,” Dennis Whyte, former director of MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center and a professor of engineering, said in a release. “Now fusion has a chance.”

Fusion is the process that powers stars, including our Sun. Enriched atoms, such as hydrogen, fuse together to generate heat, which can be used to produce electricity. Unlike nuclear, this process produces little radiation, making it safer, and requires only hydrogen atoms as fuel, not rare and dangerous elements such as uranium and plutonium.

In stars, enormous gravity naturally breaks up the hydrogen atoms in the nuclei (stars), so that they produce energy for millions, if not billions of years. However, in order to compress the atoms together, we need to subject them to extremely high temperatures and pressures.

One strategy is to use a machine called a tokamak, a donut-shaped space lined with massive superconducting magnets to hold the hydrogen in place. Many fusion reactor designs use tokamaks, and White believes that these devices have the potential to significantly reduce the size and cost of facilities that would make fusion possible.


In their breakthrough, the MIT researchers used an experimental material called REBCO, which allowed the magnets to be superconducting at temperatures of 20 Kelvin.

The researchers took a bold risk by removing the insulation – a standard measure to prevent short circuits – around the magnet coils from the superconducting tape. This greatly simplified the design and had “the advantage of a low-voltage system,” explained Zach Hartwig, an assistant professor in the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT.

According to Hartwig, in their landmark full-scale test, the researchers created a 20,000-pound magnet capable of maintaining a magnetic field of more than 20 tesla, which could be enough to support fusion reactions that provide a clean energy output. Previous magnets could produce magnetic fields up to 12 tesla.

In addition, several tests have shown that the design is very strong and stable, able to withstand extreme temperatures caused by a power outage.