This week's fusion news is all about innovation.
First, MIT's press release by David Chandler entitled A small, modular, efficient fusion plant. Prof. Dennis Whyte and colleagues have long advocated for the "high-field" approach for tokamak-based fusion. Advances in superconducting magnet technology could be the key technology that will make fusion energy affordable. As the magnetic field strength increases, the tokamak can be made much smaller (i.e. much smaller than ITER). With a smaller size, fusion can develop "in as little as a decade", as oppose the 30-year time frame that has become the joke of fusion research promises.
The other news is from Irvine, CA. Dan Clery reports in Science Exclusive: Secretive fusion company claims reactor breakthrough. (Dan Clery has written a nice book about fusion and several news articles about fusion researchers, including Fusion's Restless Pioneers.) In truth, Tri Alpha is not so secretive. They publish in Physical Review Letters and present invited lectures at the Annual Meeting of the APS Division of Plasma Physics. They're funded by private equity, and intellectual property is the current state of their business. But, Tri Alpha reports their results frequently, and they're making good scientific progress.
Interesting contrast between these two stories: while MIT advocates higher and higher toroidal field, Tri Alpha is investigating magnetic confinement without any toroidal field at all.
Fusion energy has proven to be more difficult than most scientists realized decades ago. But, new technologies (like high-field superconducting magnets) and new ideas (like fusion confinement without a strong toroidal field) the prospects for fusion breakthrough only improve.