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China built a working star in a giant lab facility

  • Project aims to replace fossil fuels with clean energy
  • Breakthroughs shared with world’s scientists
  • Artificial star provides hope for carbon-zero future

CHINESE SCIENTISTS BUILT an artificial star in a giant facility on a green peninsula on an East China lake.

The glowing orb reached 160 million degrees celsius, 16 times hotter than the sun’s surface temperature, when it was switched on in May of this year. The project is a step towards providing clean, sustainable energy for a carbon-neutral future for the planet.

However, the cost of creating power this way is so high that scientists around the world, including in China, are struggling to get funds to greenlight their work, which is eye-wateringly expensive with no guarantee of useable results.

The complex is on a peninsula jutting into a lake; Picture by Hefei Institutes of Physical Sciences


Still, given the recent success of China’s artificial sun, called EAST (Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak), the country may already be ahead in the race to make a working system in several aspects.

“These results have laid a solid physical and engineering foundation for our country to independently build the world’s first fusion energy stations,” Professor Song Yuntao of the Institute of Plasma Physics told a Xinhua reporter.

Inside the chamber: picture from a report by Xiang Gao, Yao Yang, Tao Zhang, Haiqing Liu, Guoqiang Li, Tingfeng Ming, Zixi Liu, Yumin Wang, Long Zeng, Xiang Han

The physicists work in the city of Hefei in Anhui province, but are building on discoveries made by Russian scientists in the 1960s. At the heart of the project is a machine called the Tokamak, a Russian acronym for тороидальная камера с магнитными катушками, or  “toroidal chamber with magnetic coils”.

Professor Song said they were waiting for a greenlight from Beijing to advance their work to the next stage, according to a Beijing News report.

How does it work?

Large objects create their own gravity. Stars create gravity so strong that they cause an immense concentration of atoms of hydrogen, the most common material in the universe. These collide, releasing bursts of plasma energy, which gives stars their immense amounts of heat and light. A tokamak is a donut-shaped machine which replicates this star-sized process in a relatively tiny space.

Chen, S., Villone, F., Xiao, B. et al., CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

How are the Chinese ahead? The Hefei scientists have built the first tokamak using superconducting toroidal and poloidal magnets, creating a more powerful “star”, releasing a longer burst of plasma than any others around the planet.

In May of this year, the “star from the EAST” reached 120 million degrees Celsius temperature for 101 seconds, and 160 million degrees for 20 seconds. For comparison, the surface of the sun is about 10 million degrees, and the core about 27 million degrees.

A network of artificial stars in safe facilities around the world would be a limitless source of energy, but there are huge, expensive hurdles to surmount; picture by Jordan Scott/ Unsplash

The Chinese scientists say their next target is to achieve a plasma pulse of 400 seconds, and then another lasting for 1,000 seconds, or 16 minutes.


Chinese scientists are also key partners in a joint east-west fusion reactor development called ITER, currently being built in France. The name stands for International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, and is being built by a consortium of scientists from China, the European Union, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States.

The ITER facility under construction in France; Picture by Oak Ridge National Laboratory/ Wikimedia Commons

Iter is also an ancient Latin word meaning “the way”, a key concept in Chinese philosophy, which translates it as the dao.

Given the energy shortages being felt around the world this winter, China’s decision to press ahead to use science and technology to find a solution, is now looking like a wise move.

LINK: China opts for nuclear power, as west backs off

Image at the top by Jonathan Borba/ Unsplash

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