Massive Breakthrough in Nuclear Fusion
There has been an increased focus on nuclear fusion recently. If successful, nuclear fusion could deliver a limitless and sustainable source of clean energy. This energy source could easily become the answer to the world’s climate change problems.
Well, there’s been a recent breakthrough in nuclear fusion and it involves artificial intelligence (AI), which could help advance nuclear fusion in the way that’s needed. The breakthrough comes from an AI system that’s owned by Google. The system has done something truly amazing.
For decades, nuclear fusion has been examined as a possibility for the future of clean energy. And today we’re one step closer to that reality. This recent breakthrough with AI could be the crucial component to unlocking nuclear fusion. Make nuclear fusion a viable energy source relies on finding smart ways to control and confine the roiling plasma that’s created from hydrogen atoms smashing together at unfathomably high temperatures — temperatures that are hotter than the surface of the sun.
Ambrogio Fasoli, director of the Swiss Plasma Center at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland, said this about the challenge involved in nuclear fusion:
We need to be able to heat this matter up and hold it together for long enough for us to take energy out of it.
This has been a massive engineering challenge. However, that’s where the London-based AI lab DeepMind has found a way.
DeepMind is the artificial intelligence firm that's backed by Google's parent company, Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOG). DeepMind has also been working alongside the Swiss Plasma Center to develop artificial intelligence that would be able to control a nuclear fusion reaction. And they have had some major success in their development.
DeepMind has discovered how to use AI to control the plasma autonomously. The firm recently announced that it has been successful at training the AI system to control and sculpt a superheated plasma inside a nuclear fusion reactor.
The Department of Energy explains nuclear fusion reactions as follows:
Nuclear fusion reactions power the sun and other stars. In a fusion reaction, two light nuclei merge to form a single heavier nucleus. The process releases energy because the total mass of the resulting single nucleus is less than the mass of the two original nuclei. The leftover mass becomes energy.
The process can release extensive amounts of energy. It's been touted as an energy source that could provide a limitless source of clean energy. This is exactly what the world has been looking for.
The AI system developed by DeepMind has been used about 100 times on a tokamak at the Swiss Plasma Center. A tokamak is a doughnut-shaped vessel that’s surrounded by electromagnetic coils — an attempt to recreate nuclear fusion reactions that happen in outer space. DeepMind has dubbed its tokamak the Variable Configuration Tokamak. The system was able to control the magnets in the tokamak for two seconds and change their voltage thousands of times per second.
In a recent interview, a research scientist at the Swiss Plasma Center, Federico Felici, said:
Fusion as I see it is one of the most fundamental energy sources that we have in the entire universe. Once we actually master this technology… it’s a huge achievement because you will be able to have near be limitless energy for the foreseeable.
An article written in early 2022 on Vox wrote:
Fusion energy is perhaps the longest of long shots. To build a fusion reactor is essentially to create an artificial star. Scientists have been studying the physics of fusion for a century and working to harness the process for decades. Yet almost every time researchers make an advance, the goal posts seem to recede even farther in the distance.
Well, this time around, researchers could be more successful.
This recent advancement with the AI system from DeepMind and the Swiss Plasma Center is giving us a little more optimism for the future of nuclear fusion. And even if it’s a long shot, it has been worth the shot.
Nuclear fusion has the potential to safely provide endless energy without producing greenhouse gases and with minimal waste compared with conventional energy sources. A clean energy source is desperately in demand right now. Countries across the globe and their best scientists are trying to discover new ways to provide clean energy to attempt to slow down climate change.
A professor at Université de Liège, Damien Ernst, believes the research “could dramatically accelerate the development of fusion reactors and, ultimately, our ability to fight global change.” This research and development involving the AI system from DeepMind is groundbreaking, and this could become a pivotal moment in history and for nuclear fusion.
I believe that in the next decade, we'll see more and more advancements in nuclear fusion, and I’ll be paying close attention to the progress.
Until next time,