TLDR: The ARC fusion reactor is a compact design for a fusion reactor developed by MIT. It aims to produce three times the electricity required to operate the machine. The key innovation is the use of high-temperature superconducting magnets, which makes the reactor smaller and cheaper to build.
The ARC fusion reactor, also known as the affordable, robust, compact fusion reactor, is a design developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Plasma Science and Fusion Center. The goal of the ARC reactor is to achieve an engineering breakeven of three, meaning it can produce three times the electricity needed to operate the machine. This would make it a highly efficient and cost-effective source of energy.
One of the key technical innovations of the ARC reactor is the use of high-temperature superconducting magnets. These magnets, made of a material called rare-earth barium copper oxide (REBCO), can operate at much higher field strengths compared to traditional superconducting magnets. This allows the ARC reactor to generate a stronger magnetic field, which improves the performance of the machine. The use of REBCO magnets also reduces the size of the reactor, making it about half the diameter of the ITER reactor, a larger fusion project.
The smaller size of the ARC reactor not only reduces construction costs but also offers other advantages. For example, the magnet windings can be flexible, allowing easier access to the interior of the machine for maintenance. This lowers maintenance costs and improves the reactor's capacity factor, which is an important metric in power generation costs.
The first machine planned to come from the ARC project is a scaled-down version called SPARC (Soon as Possible ARC). It will be built by Commonwealth Fusion Systems, with backing from companies like Eni, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, and Equinor. SPARC will serve as a demonstrator for the ARC design and is expected to pave the way for future fusion reactors.
In summary, the ARC fusion reactor is a compact and cost-effective design developed by MIT. It uses high-temperature superconducting magnets to achieve high performance and efficiency. The smaller size and innovative features of the ARC reactor make it a promising candidate for the future of fusion energy.