China is on course to finish building an artificial sun before the end of the year. The incredible structure will be capable of reaching 100 million degrees Celsius (212 million degrees Fahrenheit) six times hotter than the center of our sun. Scientists hope that the artificial sun will help harness the power of nuclear fusion. This would bring humanity a step closer to creating unlimited clean energy by mimicking reactions that naturally occur inside the sun proper.
The artificial sun is designed to replicate the fusion process that occurs in the sun. The achievement is significant for fusion science around the world. Fusion is seen as a solution for energy issues as it is clean, sustainable and powerful. The achievement was an important step for nuclear fusion science. It’s certainly a significant step for China’s nuclear fusion program and an important development for the whole world. Developing fusion reactors could be the solution to global energy problems. The benefit is simple in that it is very large-scale base load [continuous] energy production, with zero greenhouse gas emissions and no long-life radioactive waste.
The artificial sun was first announced by Chinese researchers last November, but the project has just hit an important milestone. Chinese media reports that early trials have allowed researchers to create stunningly high temperatures. Researchers are using a device called a tokamak, which uses a powerful magnetic field to trap hot plasma. Our sun hits temperatures of around 15 million degrees Celsius (59 degrees Fahrenheit) at its core. But the plasma from China’s artificial sun has reached an electron temperature of 100 million degrees Celsius (212 degrees Fahrenheit) and an ion temperature of 50 million degrees Celsius (122 million degrees Fahrenheit).
Ions are what generate energy in the device, So the plan is to now bring the ion temperature up to 100 million degrees too. Ion temperature is usually lower than electron temperature so this may be difficult. The device needs to be tweaked to hit the goal. As well as high pressure, nuclear fusion requires extremely high temperatures which the artificial sun could provide. Nuclear fusion is a process where two light nuclei (parts of an atom) are used to create a single heavy nucleus.
This nuclear reaction releases huge amounts of energy. That’s because the heavy nucleus is not as heavy as the mass of the two light nuclei combined. This lost mass can then be changed into huge amounts of energy. Fusion is a common occurrence inside stars, like the Sun at the centre of our own galaxy. This is how the Sun is able to provide so much heat and light. But kickstarting a nuclear fusion reaction on Earth is difficult. The goal is to start a nuclear reaction that releases more energy that you needed to start the reaction.
The problem is that both nuclei have positive charges, and repel each other. To stop this, you need to make them hit each other at very high speeds requiring high pressure and temperature.
If scientists can develop a low-energy way of making this happen, they could generate enormous and potentially unlimited amounts of clean energy. If nuclear fusion can be harnessed using a low-energy method, it could allow for the creation of unlimited clean energy. The nuclear fusion reactors also avoid risks associated with the currently employed nuclear fission reactors, which can be adapted into dangerous weapons and are prone to possible catastrophic meltdowns.
If successful, China will be able to provide a major helping hand to the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER). It’s a major project involving scientists from 35 countries that aims to new energy sources using nuclear fusion. If nuclear fusion can be harnessed using a low-energy method, it could allow for the creation of unlimited clean energy.