British Columbia-based General Fusion are hoping that the technology and methods they are developing will herald a new era in nuclear fusion. They have developed what they describe as a "Magnetized Target Fusion system."
According to the company's website, the system makes use of a sphere which is filled with molten lead-lithium. This is pumped to create a vortex, into which 'magnetically confined plasma' -- an electrically charged gas -- is injected. Pistons surrounding the sphere are used to drive a wave of pressure into its center, "compressing the plasma to fusion conditions."
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"Fusion is done… [in] two ways," Michel Laberge, founder and chief scientist of General Fusion, told CNBC's Sustainable Energy. "Usually… you make a magnetic field and that hold[s] the plasma – which is the hot gas – together, or you have no magnetic field and you crush it very fast with lasers."
"What we want to do is something in between: we want to make a plasma, a hot gas, with the magnetic field, and then crush the thing with the magnetic field, and because [with] the magnetic field the heat will not escape so fast… that will work a lot better," Laberge added.
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Currently, General Fusion is developing what they describe as 'full scale subsystems' that will demonstrate that they can meet performance targets. In the future, they are hoping to build a full scale prototype which they say will be, "designed for single pulse testing, demonstrating full net energy gain on each pulse, a world first."
"Humanity… needs a source of energy for the future, and we cannot keep on burning fossil fuels," Laberge said. "Fusion will be powering humanity in the future," he added.
Clarification: this article has been updated since first publication to reflect the fact that the reaction that keeps our Sun burning is a nuclear one.