High-performance plasmas may make reliable, efficient fusion

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High-performance plasmas may make reliable, efficient fusion

Post by Linnea » 11-05-2009 05:44 AM

From PsyOrg - Nov 2, 2009

In the quest to produce nuclear fusion energy, researchers from the DIII-D National Fusion Facility have recently confirmed long-standing theoretical predictions that performance, efficiency and reliability are simultaneously obtained in tokamaks, the leading magnetic confinement fusion device, operating at their performance limits. Experiments designed to test these predictions have successfully demonstrated the interaction of these conditions.

These new findings will be presented at the American Physical Society - Division of Plasma Physics 51st annual meeting, November 2-6, at the Atlanta Hyatt Regency Hotel.

Nuclear fusion energy has kept the sun burning for billions of years. When nuclear fusion occurs in a laboratory, power performance is determined by the temperature and density achieved by plasma, an ionized gas formed when hydrogen isotopes are heated to temperatures of over 10 million degrees Celsius. Because of these extreme temperatures, the hot plasma is confined by magnetic fields in a "tokamak" (Fig. 1), a donut-shaped device surrounded by powerful electromagnets.

Over the past decade, scientists have made tremendous progress toward realizing high pressures for increasingly long periods. A key element of recent experiments is the confirmation of theoretical predictions that one can rely on the walls of the tokamak chamber to improve plasma stability at high pressure.

Once plasma becomes sufficiently hot and dense, fusion occurs, producing large quantities of high-energy helium ions (known as alpha particles). For optimal efficiency, this self-generated heat must be well contained within the tokamak's "magnetic bottle." Models have predicted that the heat loss from the tokamak due to turbulence is quite sensitive to the exact details of the magnetic field configurations. Researchers recently found that turbulence is minimized in the same configuration necessary for achieving the highest pressures. Hence, performance and efficiency can be synergistic.

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