It looks like a piece of technology straight out of science fiction, but the Wendelstein 7-X (W7-X) stellarton fusion reactor is totally factual – and it’s set to switch online this month. Stellarator reactors such as the W7-X produce energy by using massive coiled superconductors to create powerful magnetic fields that contain hydrogen gas as it is heated to the point that its atoms fuse. According to Gizmodo, the W7-X takes the stellarator design to a whole new scale, featuring a 16-meter-wide ring covered in 250 access ports that contain 50 6-ton magnetic coils.
At a cost of more than $1 billion, the W7X took a total of 19 years to build. According to Science News, the labor and cost that went into building the stellarator design could be worth it – as it has some significant advantages over the competing tokamak technology.
“Once started, stellarators naturally purr along in a steady state and they are not prone to the potentially metal-bending magnetic disruptions that plague tokamaks,” writes Daniel Clery of Science News. The tokamaks are significantly simpler to build, but can only operate for short periods of time and are subject to major magnetic disruptions.
All the blood, sweat and dollars put into the project will be tested later this month when Germany’s nuclear regulatory body is set to give the go-ahead to start up the W7-X. If all goes well, this technology could become a mainstay in the clean energy future of the planet.
Image via Wikimedia Commons, Max Planck Institute