The world's most powerful magnet is about to meet the world's largest experimental fusion facility.
General Atomics, an American energy and defense company, is preparing to ship the first module of the Central Solenoid, the world's most powerful magnet. It will become a vital component of ITER, which is a machine that replicates the Sun's fusion power and is one of the most ambitious energy projects ever attempted.
The project ITER is being built in southern France by 35 partner countries including China, the E.U, India, Japan, Korea, Russia, and the U.S.Its mission is to demonstrate that energy from hydrogen fusion can be created and managed and that the materials needed to power societies with hydrogen fusion in a carbon-free, safe, and cost-effective way are readily abundant.
Much like everything else, ITER's construction was hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic, but despite that, it is almost 75 percent complete. Massive one-of-a-kind components have started to arrive in France from three continents during these last 15 months, and when assembled together, they will form the ITER Tokamak, a "sun on earth", which will demonstrate fusion at an industrial scale. Huge magnets are needed to contain the plasma in the “tokamak”, which is a vacuum-chambered fusion device.
The biggest of ITER's magnets, the Central Solenoid, will be made up of six modules and is one of the major U.S. contributions to ITER. It will be 59 feet (18 meters) tall, 14 feet (4.25 meters) wide, and weigh a thousand tons when fully built. The magnet will be used to generate a powerful current in the ITER plasma, assisting in shaping and controlling the fusion reaction during extended pulses.
Central Solenoid is a force to reckon with
Its magnetic force is powerful enough to lift an aircraft carrier 6 feet (2 meters) into the air, and at its core, it will have a magnetic field strength of 13 Tesla, which is approximately 280,000 times greater than the Earth's magnetic field. Moreover, the Central Solenoid's support structures will have to endure forces comparable to double the thrust of a space shuttle lift-off.
General Atomics completed final testing of the first Central Solenoid module earlier this year, and it will be put into a special heavy transport truck this week for shipment to Houston, where it will be loaded onto a ship headed to southern France, signaling the start of something exciting.
"Delivery of the first ITER Central Solenoid module is an exciting milestone for the demonstration of fusion energy and also a terrific achievement of U.S. capacity to build very large, high-field, high-energy superconducting magnets," said Dr. Michael Mauel of Columbia University, in a press release. "GA's success in building, testing, and delivering high-field superconducting magnets for fusion energy is a high-tech breakthrough for the U.S. and gives confidence in realizing fusion power in the future."