Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Nuclear fusion simulation shows high-gain energy output

Component testing under way at Sandia’s Z accelerator for fast-firing magnetic method
High-gain nuclear fusion could be achieved in a preheated cylindrical container immersed in strong magnetic fields, according to a series of computer simulations performed at Sandia National Laboratories.

The simulations show the release of output energy that was, remarkably, many times greater than the energy fed into the container’s liner. The method appears to be 50 times more efficient than using X-rays — a previous favorite at Sandia — to drive implosions of targeted materials to create fusion conditions.
“People didn’t think there was a high-gain option for magnetized inertial fusion (MIF) but these numerical simulations show there is,” said Sandia researcher Steve Slutz, the paper’s lead author. “Now we have to see if nature will let us do it. In principle, we don’t know why we can’t.”

High-gain fusion means getting substantially more energy out of a material than is put into it. Inertial refers to the compression in situ over nanoseconds of a small amount of targeted fuel.

Such fusion eventually could produce reliable electricity from seawater, the most plentiful material on earth, rather than from the raw materials used by other methods: uranium, coal, oil, gas, sun or wind. In the simulations, the output demonstrated was 100 times that of a 60 million amperes (MA) input current. The output rose steeply as the current increased: 1,000 times input was achieved from an incoming pulse of 70 MA.

Since Sandia’s Z machine can bring a maximum of only 26 MA to bear upon a target, the researchers would be happy with a proof-of-principle result called scientific break-even, in which the amount of energy leaving the target equals the amount of energy put into the deuterium-tritium fuel.

This has never been achieved in the laboratory and would be a valuable addition to fusion science, said Slutz.

Inertial fusion would provide better data for increasingly accurate simulations of nuclear explosions, which is valuable because the U.S. last tested a weapon in its aging nuclear stockpile in 1992.

The MIF technique heats the fusion fuel (deuterium-tritium) by compression as in normal inertial fusion, but uses a magnetic field to suppress heat loss during implosion. The magnetic field acts like a kind of shower curtain to prevent charged particles like electrons and alpha particles from leaving the party early and draining energy from the reaction.

The simulated process relies upon a single, relatively low-powered laser to preheat a deuterium-tritium gas mixture that sits within a small liner.

At the top and bottom of the liner are two slightly larger coils that, when electrically powered, create a joined vertical magnetic field that penetrates into the liner, reducing energy loss from charged particles attempting to escape through the liner’s walls.

An extremely strong magnetic field is created on the surface of the liner by a separate, very powerful electrical current, generated by a pulsed power accelerator such as Z. The force of this huge magnetic field pushes the liner inward to a fraction of its original diameter. It also compresses the magnetic field emanating from the coils. The combination is powerful enough to force atoms of gaseous fuel into intimate contact with each other, fusing them.

Heat released from that reaction raised the gaseous fuel’s temperature high enough to ignite a layer of frozen and therefore denser deuterium-tritium fuel coating the inside of the liner. The heat transfer is similar to the way kindling heats a log: when the log ignites, the real heat — here high-yield fusion from ignited frozen fuel — commences.

Tests of physical equipment necessary to validate the computer simulations are already under way at Z, and a laboratory result is expected by late 2013, said Sandia engineer Dean Rovang.

Portions of the design are slated to receive their first tests in March and continue into early winter. Sandia has performed preliminary tests of the coils.

Potential problems involve controlling instabilities in the liner and in the magnetic field that might prevent the fuel from constricting evenly, an essential condition for a useful implosion. Even isolating the factors contributing to this hundred-nanosecond-long compression event, in order to adjust them, will be challenging.

“Whatever the difficulties,” said Sandia manager Daniel Sinars, “we still want to find the answer to what Slutz (and co-author Roger Vesey) propose: Can magnetically driven inertial fusion work? We owe it to the country to understand how realistic this possibility is.”

The work, reported in the Jan. 13 issue of Physical Review Letters, was supported by Sandia’s Laboratory Directed Research and Development office and by the National Nuclear Security Administration.

Sandia National Laboratories is a multi-program laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin company, for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major R&D responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies and economic competitiveness.

Sandia news media contact: Neal Singer, (505) 845-7078

neal singer | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht New quantum liquid crystals may play role in future of computers
21.04.2017 | California Institute of Technology

nachricht Light rays from a supernova bent by the curvature of space-time around a galaxy
21.04.2017 | Stockholm University

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

Im Focus: Quantum-physical Model System

Computer-assisted methods aid Heidelberg physicists in reproducing experiment with ultracold atoms

Two researchers at Heidelberg University have developed a model system that enables a better understanding of the processes in a quantum-physical experiment...

Im Focus: Glacier bacteria’s contribution to carbon cycling

Glaciers might seem rather inhospitable environments. However, they are home to a diverse and vibrant microbial community. It’s becoming increasingly clear that they play a bigger role in the carbon cycle than previously thought.

A new study, now published in the journal Nature Geoscience, shows how microbial communities in melting glaciers contribute to the Earth’s carbon cycle, a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

Latest News

New quantum liquid crystals may play role in future of computers

21.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A promising target for kidney fibrosis

21.04.2017 | Health and Medicine

Light rays from a supernova bent by the curvature of space-time around a galaxy

21.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

More VideoLinks >>>