New Theory on Plasma Could Be Key to Fusion Power

/ 4 years ago

Fusion Power

Sustainable fusion power is a goal many scientists and governments are racing to achieve in order to meet increasing worldwide energy demands. Engineers from the UK claim that the first commercial fusion reactor is a possibility within five years, but there are still some fundamental problems that need to be worked out before that happens. The majority of fusion power research focuses on magnetic confinement reactors that utilize powerful magnets to fuse hydrogen plasma into helium.

The underlying issue with that approach however is that the plasma itself creates new magnetic fields which have a drastic effect on the reactions. In a process called “magnetic re-connection”, the magnetic fields of the charged particles contained within plasma snap, breaking apart dramatically causing flares and blasts and reconnect explosively. Inside a magnetic confinement fusion power reactor, these re-connections can break the external fields holding the plasma in place, affecting the sustainability of the reaction.

Scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy and Princeton University may have come up with a solution to predicting flares and solve the mystery of why the magnetic re-connection happens faster than existing model can predict theoretically. According to the researchers, the existing linear phase of the plasmoid behaviour holds true according to the Sweet-Parker model but that it accelerates into an explosive phase that speeds up the re-connection. Applying math to calculate how long each phase occurs, the scientists have noted that the entire process does not follow conventional power laws and that decreasing instability is not affecting re-connection speed in a predictable way. This finding will allow fusion power researchers to better control fusion containment fields and strengthen magnetic barriers. This also has greater application on predicting violent natural phenomenon including solar storms, space weather, aurora borealis, and gamma-ray bursts.

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