The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) announced Friday that it will launch a "novel approach" to nuclear fusion power with a private company, and intends to produce a working pilot plan within 15 years.
The project, which has attracted an investment of 50 million U.S. dollars from the Italian energy company Eni, will be carried out in collaboration with Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS), a MIT spinoff. More than 30 million dollars will be applied to research and development at MIT over the next three years, and CFS continues to seek additional investors.
The new effort aims to build a compact device capable of generating 100 megawatts, and the ultimate goal is to rapidly commercialize fusion energy and curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Nuclear fusion is believed to be more efficient, cleaner and safer than other energy production methods, but it has been rather difficult to put into action due to technical and financial bottlenecks.
Fusion, the process that powers the sun and stars, involves light elements, such as hydrogen, smashing together to form heavier elements, such as helium, releasing tremendous amounts of energy in the process.
This process produces net energy only at extreme temperatures of hundreds of millions of degrees Celsius, too hot for any solid material to withstand, and researchers use magnetic fields to get around that. In this project, the team aims to develop the world's most powerful large-bore superconducting electromagnets, which will produces a magnetic field four times as strong as that employed in any existing fusion experiment.
"This is an important historic moment: Advances in superconducting magnets have put fusion energy potentially within reach, offering the prospect of a safe, carbon-free energy future," said MIT President L. Rafael Reif in the online announcement.