Launching fusion reactions without a central magnet, or solenoid

Launching fusion reactions without a central magnet, or solenoid
Left: Plasmoid formation in simulation of NSTX plasma during startup without solenoid. Right: Fast-camera image of NSTX plasma shows two discrete plasmoid-like structures. Credit: NSTX

The tokamak is an experimental chamber that holds a gas of energetic charged particles, plasma, for developing energy production from nuclear fusion. Most large tokamaks create the plasma with solenoids—large magnetic coils that wind down the center of the vessels and inject the current that starts the plasma and completes the magnetic field that holds the superhot gas in place. But future tokamaks must do without solenoids, which run in short pulses rather than for weeks or months at a time as commercial fusion power plants will have to do.

Recent computer simulations have suggested a novel method for launching the plasma without using solenoids. The simulation modeling shows the formation of distinct, current carrying magnetic structures called plasmoids that can initiate the plasma and complete the complex .

Everything starts with , or loops, that rise through an opening in the floor of the tokamak. As the field lines are electrically forced to expand into the vessel, a thin layer, or sheet, of electrical current can form. Through a process called magnetic reconnection, the sheet can break and form a series of ring-shaped plasmoids that are the magnetic equivalent to the bubble rings created by dolphins.

The computationally predicted plasmoids have been confirmed with fast-camera images inside the National Spherical Torus Experiment (NSTX), the major fusion facility at the U.S. Department of Energy's Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL); the facility has since been upgraded. The plasmoids merge to form a large ring carrying up to 400,000 amperes of current, creating a plasma start-up phase inside the tokamak.

This advanced modeling of plasmoids also led to another major finding: the conditions under which a large volume of field line closure and maximum start-up current can be achieved by the upgrade of the National Spherical Torus Experiment (NSTX-U).

Plasmoid-like structures are also observed in nature such as during eruptive solar events. The global plasmoid formation observed in the tokamak sheds new light on the magnetic reconnection process and the trigger mechanism of solar flares. These findings also reveal that the same plasmoid-mediated reconnection that occurs in space has a leading role to play in closing magnetic field lines and starting up plasma in NSTX-U.


Explore further

Giant structures called plasmoids could simplify the design of future tokamaks

More information: meetings.aps.org/Meeting/DPP16/Session/DI2.4
Citation: Launching fusion reactions without a central magnet, or solenoid (2016, October 27) retrieved 19 August 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2016-10-fusion-reactions-central-magnet-solenoid.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.
9 shares

Feedback to editors

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more