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UK nuclear fusion firm Tokamak Energy said it is on course to be the first private company to achieve 100 million-degree plasma temperature, in a big step for commercial fusion energy.

Tokamak Energy revealed pictures of the plasma in its recently-upgraded spherical tokamak — the ST40 — in March.

The company, whose fusion energy machine rose to higher temperatures than the center of the sun in 2018, aims to achieve fusion temperatures of 100 million degrees sometime in the next few months. 

“First plasma is a major milestone on our path to commercial fusion energy. Our ST40 device has been equipped with upgraded power supplies and plasma heating systems over the last year,” said Tokamak Energy CEO Jonathan Carling.

“In the next few months, this device will achieve 100-million-degree plasma temperature, far beyond anything achieved by other private fusion ventures, and the temperature required for commercial fusion energy,” Carling continued.

The CEO likened first fusion to the first flight of a new aircraft prototype, saying the company will “confirm all our systems work as expected, before we ‘turn on the afterburners’ to reach 100-million-degree plasma temperature.”

Immense magnetic power needed for nuclear fusion

Nuclear fusion reactors are essentially built to reproduce the process used by the sun and the stars to make energy.

In order to fuse hydrogen atoms together to make helium and collect the resulting heat energy to generate electricity, huge magnets are required that currently produce more energy than they consume. This is currently the greatest hurdle to practically endless emission-free energy supplies from nuclear fusion power plants.

In a recent interview with the BBCDr. Greg Brittles, Senior HTS Magnet Engineer at Tokamak Energy, explained that the force generated by the company’s magnets is comparable to double the pressure at the bottom of the deepest ocean trench.

Tokamak Energy is a spin-out from a world-leading fusion research center at Culham Laboratory, near Oxford in the UK. It isn’t the only private firm to have reached potentially groundbreaking nuclear fusion milestones — last month, TAE Technologies announced its reactors might generate commercially viable energy by the end of the 2020s.

Fusion rection technology forms a part of the UK government’s Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, and the UK recently announced it was looking for land on which to build its first nuclear fusion power station. The US, meanwhile, revealed its own plans to open a nuclear fusion power plant by the 2040s.

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