Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Mug handles could help hot plasma give lower-cost, controllable fusion energy

12.10.2012
Researchers around the world are working on an efficient, reliable way to contain the plasma used in fusion reactors, potentially bringing down the cost of this promising but technically elusive energy source.
A new finding from the University of Washington could help contain and stabilize the plasma using as little as 1 percent of the energy required by current methods.

“All of a sudden the current energy goes from being almost too much to almost negligible,” said lead author Thomas Jarboe, a UW professor of aeronautics and astronautics. He presents the findings this week at the International Atomic Energy Association’s 24th annual Fusion Energy Conference in San Diego.

The new equipment looks like handles on a coffee mug – except they attach to a vessel containing a million-degree plasma that is literally too hot to handle.

Most people know about nuclear fission, the commercial type of nuclear power generated from splitting large atoms in two. Still under research is nuclear fusion, which smashes two small atoms together, releasing energy without requiring rare elements or generating radioactive waste.

Of course, there’s a catch – smashing the atoms together takes a lot of energy, and scientists are still working on a way to do it so you get out more energy than you put in. The sun is a powerful fusion reactor but we can’t recreate a full-scale sun on Earth.

An international project in France is building a multibillion-dollar fusion reactor to see whether a big enough reactor can generate fusion power.

The reactor in France will inject high-frequency electromagnetic waves and high-speed hydrogen ions to sustain the plasma by maintaining an even hotter 100-million-degree operating temperature and enclosing it with magnetic fields.

“That method works,” Jarboe said, “but it’s extremely inefficient and expensive, to the point that it really is a major problem with magnetic confinement.”

For two decades Jarboe’s team has worked on helicity injection as a more efficient alternative. Spirals in the plasma produce asymmetric currents that generate the right electric and magnetic fields to heat and confine the contents. Plasma is so hot that the electrons have separated from the nuclei. It cannot touch any walls and so instead is contained by a magnetic bottle. Keeping the plasma hot enough and sustaining those magnetic fields requires a lot of energy.

“We would drive it until it was unstable,” Jarboe said of his approach. “Like you twist up a rope, the plasma twists up on itself and makes the instability and makes the current drive.”

Results showed the UW strategy required less energy than other methods, but the system was unstable, meaning that if conditions change it could wobble out of control. It’s like a stick balancing on one end, which is stable at that moment, but is likely to come crashing down with any nudge. In the case of plasma, unstable equilibrium means that a twist in the plasma could cause it to escape and potentially lead to a costly reactor shutdown.

Instability was a major impediment to applying the UW method.

“The big issue is whether, when you distort the bottle, it will leak,” Jarboe said.

By contrast, in a stable equilibrium, any shift will tend to come back toward the original state, like a ball resting at the bottom of a bowl that will settle back where it started.

“Here we imposed the asymmetric field, so the plasma doesn’t have to go unstable in order for us to drive the current. We’ve shown that we can sustain a stable equilibrium and we can control the plasma, which means the bottle will be able to hold more plasma,” Jarboe said.

The UW apparatus uses two handle-shaped coils to alternately generate currents on either side of the central core, a method the authors call imposed dynamo current drive. Results show the plasma is stable and the method is energy-efficient, but the UW research reactor is too small to fully contain the plasma without some escaping as a gas. Next, the team hopes to attach the device to a larger reactor to see if it can maintain a sufficiently tight magnetic bottle.

The research is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. Co-authors are Brian Nelson, research associate professor of electrical engineering; and research associate Brian Victor, research scientists David Ennis, Nathaniel Hicks, George Marklin and Roger Smith and graduate students Chris Hansen, Aaron Hossack, Cihan Ackay and Kyle Morgan, all in UW aeronautics and astronautics.

For more information, contact Jarboe at 206-685-3427 or jarboe@aa.washington.edu.

His presentation will take place Saturday, Oct. 13, at 11:05 a.m. in the Indigo Ballroom of the Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel, in the Innovative Confinement Concepts track.

Hannah Hickey | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.uw.edu

More articles from Power and Electrical Engineering:

nachricht Beyond the limits of conventional electronics: stable organic molecular nanowires
24.05.2018 | Tokyo Institute of Technology

nachricht Molecular switch will facilitate the development of pioneering electro-optical devices
24.05.2018 | Technische Universität München

All articles from Power and Electrical Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Molecular switch will facilitate the development of pioneering electro-optical devices

A research team led by physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed molecular nanoswitches that can be toggled between two structurally different states using an applied voltage. They can serve as the basis for a pioneering class of devices that could replace silicon-based components with organic molecules.

The development of new electronic technologies drives the incessant reduction of functional component sizes. In the context of an international collaborative...

Im Focus: LZH showcases laser material processing of tomorrow at the LASYS 2018

At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.

At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...

Im Focus: Self-illuminating pixels for a new display generation

There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?

At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...

Im Focus: Explanation for puzzling quantum oscillations has been found

So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics

Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...

Im Focus: Dozens of binaries from Milky Way's globular clusters could be detectable by LISA

Next-generation gravitational wave detector in space will complement LIGO on Earth

The historic first detection of gravitational waves from colliding black holes far outside our galaxy opened a new window to understanding the universe. A...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Save the date: Forum European Neuroscience – 07-11 July 2018 in Berlin, Germany

02.05.2018 | Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

Unique scope of UV LED technologies and applications presented in Berlin: ICULTA-2018

12.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

When corals eat plastics

24.05.2018 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation

Surgery involving ultrasound energy found to treat high blood pressure

24.05.2018 | Medical Engineering

First chip-scale broadband optical system that can sense molecules in the mid-IR

24.05.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>