Speeding the development of fusion power to create unlimited energy on Earth

Speeding the development of fusion power to create unlimited energy on Earth
Physicist Jon Menard with concepts for a next-generation fusion facility. Credit: Elle Starkman/PPPL Office of Communications

Can tokamak fusion facilities, the most widely used devices for harvesting on Earth the fusion reactions that power the sun and stars, be developed more quickly to produce safe, clean, and virtually limitless energy for generating electricity? Physicist Jon Menard of the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) has examined that question in a detailed look at the concept of a compact tokamak equipped with high temperature superconducting (HTS) magnets. Such magnets can produce higher magnetic fields—necessary to produce and sustain fusion reactions—than would otherwise be possible in a compact facility.

Menard first presented the paper, now published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, to a Royal Society workshop in London that explored accelerating the development of tokamak-produced with compact tokamaks. "This is the first paper that quantitatively documents how the new superconductors can interplay with the high pressure that compact tokamaks produce to influence how tokamaks are optimized in the future," Menard said. "What we tried to develop were some simple models that capture important aspects of an integrated design."

"Very significant" findings

The findings are "very significant," said Steve Cowley, director of PPPL. Cowley noted that "Jon's arguments in this and the previous paper have been very influential in the recent National Academies of Sciences report," which calls for a U.S. program to develop a compact pilot plant to generate electricity at the lowest possible cost. "Jon has really outlined the technical aspects for much smaller tokamaks using high-temperature magnets," Cowley said.

Compact tokamaks, which can include spherical facilities such as the National Spherical Torus Experiment-Upgrade (NSTX-U) that is under repair at PPPL and the Mega Ampere Spherical Tokamak (MAST) in Britain, provide some advantageous features. The devices, shaped like cored apples rather than doughnut-like conventional tokamaks, can produce high-pressure plasmas that are essential for with relatively low and cost-effective magnetic fields.

Such reactions fuse light elements in the form of plasma—the hot, charged state of matter composed of free electrons and atomic nuclei—to release energy. Scientists seek to replicate this process and essentially create a star on Earth to generate abundant electricity for homes, farms, and industries around the world. Fusion could last millions of years with little risk and without generating greenhouse gases.

Extends previous examination

Menard's study extends his previous examination of a spherical design that could develop materials and components for a fusion reactor and serve as a pilot plant to produce . The current paper provides a detailed analysis of the complex tradeoffs that future experiments will need to explore when it comes to integrating compact tokamaks with HTS magnets. "We realize that there's no single innovation that can be counted on to lead to some breakthrough for making devices more compact or economical," Menard said. "You have to look at an entire integrated system to know if you are getting benefits from higher magnetic fields."

The paper focuses key issues on the size of the hole, defined as the "," in the center of the tokamak that holds and shapes the plasma. In spherical tokamaks, this hole can be half the size of the hole in conventional tokamaks, corresponding to the cored apple-like shape of the compact design. While physicists believe that lower aspect ratios can improve plasma stability and plasma confinement, "we won't know on the confinement side until we run experiments on the NSXT-U and the MAST upgrades," Menard said.

Lower aspect ratios provide an attractive setting for HTS magnets, whose high current density can produce the strong magnetic fields that fusion requires inside the relatively narrow space of a compact tokamak. However, superconducting magnets need thick shielding for protection from neutron bombardment damage and heating, leaving scant room for a transformer to induce current in the plasma to complete the twisting field when the device size is reduced. For lower aspect ratio designs, scientists would thus have to develop new techniques to produce some or all of the initial plasma current.

200-to-300 megawatts of electric power

Sustaining the plasma to generate the 200-to-300 megawatts of electric power the paper examines would also require higher confinement than standard operating regimes typically achieve. Such power production could lead to challenging fluxes of fusion neutrons that would limit the estimated lifetime of the HTS magnets to one-to-two years of full-power operation. Thicker shielding could substantially increase that lifetime but would also lower the delivery of fusion power.

Major development will in fact be needed for HTS magnets, which have not yet been built to scale. "It will probably take years to put together a model of the essential elements of magnet size requirements and related factors as a function of aspect ratio," Menard said.

The bottom line, he said, is that the lower aspect ratio "is really worth investigating based on these results." The potential benefits of lower ratios, he noted, include the production of fusion power density—the crucial output of fusion per volume of —that exceeds the output for conventional aspect ratios. "Fusion needs to become more attractive," Menard said, "so it's important to assess the benefits of lower aspect ratios and what the tradeoffs are."


Explore further

Spherical tokamak as model for next steps in fusion energy

More information: J. E. Menard, Compact steady-state tokamak performance dependence on magnet and core physics limits, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences (2019). DOI: 10.1098/rsta.2017.0440
Citation: Speeding the development of fusion power to create unlimited energy on Earth (2019, March 19) retrieved 25 April 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-03-fusion-power-unlimited-energy-earth.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.
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Mar 19, 2019
Closed bottles like tokamaks are best used to store materials in plasma form, such as antimatter. Which is the real reason for the current efforts in tokamak/spheromak/stellarator megaprojects.

Mar 19, 2019
Closed bottles like tokamaks are best used to store materials in plasma form, such as antimatter. Which is the real reason for the current efforts in tokamak/spheromak/stellarator megaprojects.


In order to make enough antimatter to store, you pretty much need a well working fusion reactor to begin with - in fact you need many, large ones. Otherwise you don't have enough energy, cheaply enough to spare.

Mar 19, 2019
How about aneutronic fusion instead? - e.g. pB11.

rdp
Mar 19, 2019
Dr. Mernard's research looks solid. But Daniel L Jassby (retired from Princeton Plasma Physics Lab) articulates a number of challenges that any fusion reactor will face. As links appear to be forbidden in comments, read "Fusion Reactors Share Seven Drawbacks of Fission Reactors" in the American Physical Society Forum on Physics and Society.


Mar 19, 2019
Attempting to control plasma in a fusion reactor is like squeezing a balloon and not expecting the part you squeeze to bulge.

Mar 19, 2019
The Greatest Story Ever Sold. For 60+ yrs, politicians have been buying the BS dream of fusion energy sold by physicists, & have shown Nothing concrete in rtn. No attempt to implement Gerard O'Neill's far cheaper & more practical plan for Solar Power Satellites (1977), yet fusion continues to drink up money like a sponge & doesn't deliver at LLNL or in Europe, w/no end in sight.

Mar 19, 2019
Oh, we'll get fusion. After all, there's that great big giant fusion reactor in the sky to tell us it can be done. Hard to get away from that.

Mar 20, 2019
Oh, we'll get fusion. After all, there's that great big giant fusion reactor in the sky to tell us it can be done. Hard to get away from that.

So, why build it? Why not just extract power from the fusion power generator that is already up there in the sky? (except to maybe just say it can be done, otherwise the point is moot)

Mar 20, 2019
In order to make enough antimatter to store, you pretty much need a well working fusion reactor to begin with - in fact you need many, large ones. Otherwise you don't have enough energy, cheaply enough to spare
No, you need an accelerator similar to the LHC but larger. Future rings constructed southward will put antimatter production in the vicinity of ITER. Coincidence or ?

Antimatter WILL be produced for propulsion at some point in the future. And the ONLY way to store it is in a closed magnetic bottle. There are lots of ways to produce fusion energy. Closed bottles are not the best. Which leads one to speculate that these megaprojects have another, more important but less publicly-acceptable, purpose.

Not only antimatter... lots of exotic materials will be created and stored in plasma form. These bottles are teaching us how to do that.

Mar 20, 2019
No attempt to implement Gerard O'Neill's far cheaper & more practical plan for Solar Power Satellites
"China intends to start developing space-based solar power satellites. The Chinese are building the first prototypes now. They plan to deploy small and medium models in the stratosphere between 2021 and 2025. A megawatt-level satellite would be launched in 2030."

"Their plans envisioned a power-sat covering 22 miles in area with structural elements assembled by "beam-builder" technology – dispensers extruding graphite/epoxy compound "tape" from spools used to form long beams and struts." Etc

-Research then post.

Mar 20, 2019
Fusion power is already here!!

https://uploads.d...69c9.jpg

Mar 20, 2019
Before you all go crazy with excitement, perhaps you may think abut having unlimited power in the hands of a Duterte or Kim or Trump.

Mar 20, 2019
Destruction of containment by radiation absent from this ongoing discussion. Would enjoy reading some comments.

Mar 20, 2019
Fusion power is already here!!

https://uploads.d...69c9.jpg
Is Solar Energy Actually Nuclear Fusion Energy From a Safe Distance? Think Again.
"Exposure to solar radiation kills as many as 18,000 Americans per year."
"There are no examples of members of the general public in the west who have died due to exposure to radiation from civilian nuclear power in the last 50 years".
https://uploads.d...54a4.jpg
"It's now also recognised by UNSCEAR that wind and solar energy are resulting in significant radiation exposure."
"The solar and wind fuel cycles emit considerably more radiation (mainly from mining rare earth metals) than the nuclear fuel cycle"
"Exposure to radiation kills more people working in the solar industry than in nuclear power."
https://pbs.twimg...8hRO.jpg

KBK
Mar 20, 2019
Centralization of power is important to oligarchy. Fundamental, inescapably so.

This is why this sort of system is researched and funded.

You can't control a population, or 'overlord' them, if they can get their energy anywhere and elsewhere.

This has been key to all oligarchy that has ever existed since the dawn of human times.

The lever must exist inherently and inescapably in the proposed technology, otherwise oligarchy will not allow it and will actively move against it, either openly or via other means.

I hold these points to be obvious to anyone who has at least a few brain cells to throw at these problems/scenarios.
'
fusion power is centralized power,and other forms of similar 'overunity' ( simplistic analysis, common parlance), are not allowed--- and some are violently suppressed.

Logically, scientifically...if fusion is "real", then many of the ridiculed others ~MUST~ exist.

Think it through.

KBK
Mar 20, 2019
Many of us.. being fairly innocent (mostly purposely) of the hidden side of human reality (it can be quite ugly), don't put any credence into the 'fringe' reports.

But... if one has any open, logical capacity -at all... and can look at the near hundreds of billions spent on 'fusion' ....and can make more than one logical connection in one moment...then this scenario of alternatives to fusion being suppressed, this can be seen to be very real, as potentials go.

All one has to do is go and make honest open minded searches and evaluations on the various proposed ways and technologies.

All of those communities of researchers, some quite accredited..will tell you of this endless widespread persecution and suppression--- ad infinitum.

Do you want to look behind when trying to drive, or be informed and look forward?

The answers are found in the places and ways you are not looking.

Always have been, always will.

Mar 20, 2019
Before you all go crazy with excitement, perhaps you may think abut having unlimited power in the hands of a Duterte or Kim or Trump
-or even worse, a genuine psychopath.
fusion power is centralized power
Not necessarily.
and other forms of similar 'overunity'
Fusion is not overunity. I see youre ignorant because you fail to realize that this is the internet where you can look stuff up rather than making it up. Like you do with your buds down at the diner or the VFW.

Mar 20, 2019
We do not need it, and cannot afford it, and it makes no sense to have centralized power where we are dependent on others who care nothing for us.

Mar 20, 2019
...it makes no sense to have centralized power where we are dependent on others who care nothing for us...
If so, stop building huge solar/wind farms(land-intensive monstrosities backed by coal/oil/gas/fracking to compensate intermittencies).
"Before proposing 100% RE for the world, FIRST try it at your house. Buy panels & loads of batteries and disconnect from the grid. Start a blog and let us know how it's going, particularly during the dead of winter. Thanks."
"If it were true that solar panels were cheaper than coal, droves of persons would be installing solar panels and disconnecting from the grid with no need for any incentive. But of course, it is just not true."

"It's no coincidence that the fastest decarbonization rates occurred in centralized, state-dominated energy systems and have prominently featured nuclear and hydroelectric power."
https://thebreakt...ic-power

Mar 20, 2019
So, why build it? Why not just extract power from the fusion power generator that is already up there in the sky?
We are. It's called "solar power."

Meanwhile, the power density is much higher if you're much closer. Simple easy stuff. Basic physics. Inverse square law.

Mar 20, 2019
Destruction of containment by radiation absent from this ongoing discussion.
Not from the article. Perhaps you should read it instead of just commenting on the headline.

Mar 20, 2019
Meanwhile, my PV system quietly puts power into the electrical system, and not a single PhD in Physics in sight.

Mar 21, 2019
Meanwhile, my PV system quietly puts power into the electrical system, and not a single PhD in Physics in sight.
Meanwhile, gskam has invented a system able of converting his lies into perpetual motion to produce electricity uninterruptedly(24/7/365) enough to power the whole world forever.
https://pbs.twimg...6eKI.jpg

Mar 21, 2019
Well, sunny Costa Rica is coopting the last of the native tribes lands to build the largest hydropower dam in Latin America.
That supports:
1) the idea that control of centralized power is necessary for the establishment to maintain supremacy.
2) the idea that solar and wind are somehow deficient or less effective OR that the establishment is actively working against the small private firms.

Mar 21, 2019
No, it doesn't.

Your need for control does not extend to me or them.

Mar 21, 2019
Fusion has become a religion, perhaps.

Meanwhile, real power,cheap power, simple power, unattended power, is being produced by my silent PV system. No physicists required.

Mar 22, 2019
No, you need an accelerator similar to the LHC but larger.


And where do you get the electricity to run it?

The LHC needs 200 Megawatts of power to run, and it produces a few atoms of antimatter at a time. You know the Avogadro constant? 6.022 x 10^23 - that's the number of atoms you need in one "mole" of matter, which in terms of mass is roughly one gram of anti-hydrogen.

The production of antimatter by particle accelerator is highly inefficient, because only a tiny tiny portion of the collisions result in the production of the correct particles.

In order to make enough anti-matter to have a point in storing it for some purpose, you will be consuming the average electric power output of the United States. NASA estimates the production costs for 1 gram of antimatter to exceed $6 trillion.

Mar 22, 2019
Sorry, $62 trillion per gram:

http://eskify.com...-a-nuke/

However for only $600,000 you could fit a 10 millionth of a gram of antimatter into a snipers bullet. This one bullet would be equivalent to 378 grams of TNT, which is more powerful than a modern grenade.


So the trick with storing large amounts of anti-matter is, if your containment field fails and the magnetic bottle breaks, you'll make a crater the size of France. Even if it was technically feasible, I doubt anyone would be stupid enough to construct such a thing.

Mar 22, 2019
Also, the idea of using tokamaks to store antimatter is kind-of a non-starter because:

The team is called the ALPHA collaboration. The bottle is called a "trap" because that's what it does, it traps antimatter. The team can create thousands of antihydrogen atoms in only a second but the trap barely catches any. Different types of antimatter require different types of traps. Antihydrogen cannot be trapped using magnets as it doesn't have an electric charge.


Anti-hydrogen is the easiest to make. You need much more energy to make heavier anti-elements. Tokamaks contain plasma. If it cools down to neutral atoms, the containment is lost.

If you wanted to capture antihydrogen without it getting annihilated, then you would have to use something called a loffe trap. This amazing device creates a region of space where the magnetic field gets larger in all directions. The antihydrogen gets stuck in the area with the weakest magnetic field.


Mar 22, 2019
Of course, because the loffe trap works on the point that anti-hydrogen is weakly diamagnetic, it cannot hold very much of it because the containment pressure is absolutely tiny. It catches a handful of atoms at extremely low temperatures - just enough to study them.

If you took anti-hydrogen and heated in up to plasma, then you could store it in a tokamak, but then you'd be setting yourself with a time bomb because it needs continuous heating in order to stay in there. If you lose power, boom it goes.

The idea of using the most reactive substance in the universe for storing energy is theoretically interesting, but practically moronic. It's in the same club with the idea of storing large amounts of electricity in superconducting electromagnets, where, if the superconductivity is lost the magnet wire will vaporize and explode instantly.

Mar 22, 2019
Once again: "Meanwhile, real power,cheap power, simple power, unattended power, is being produced by my silent PV system. No physicists required."

Mar 23, 2019
Meanwhile, real power,cheap power, simple power, unattended power, is being produced by my silent PV system. No physicists required.
Solar PV has become a religion, undoubtedly. The proponents lie to themselves, believe in their own lies.
"Seriously, people, we are dealing with a full blown religion when confronting solar panel / wind turbine zealots. No amount of facts will EVER convince them because for them this is an act of faith: RE will save us. Plus, the Pope is on their side."
"The Green religion is anti intellectual and fundamentalist . It has a set of beliefs that cannot be questioned exposing their antiscientific antirational instincts."
"The idea of 100% renewable energy has essentially become a religion whose central tenets and prophets cannot be questioned."
"Religion is a culture of faith; science is a culture of doubt."
"REnewable is now a REligion, completely dishonest and divorced from reality."

Mar 23, 2019
Get off it, Willie. My system is real, and you are just a billboard.

Mar 23, 2019
Get off it, Willie. My system is real, and you are just a billboard.


Indeed. Pathetic isn't he?

Mar 23, 2019
So, why build it? Why not just extract power from the fusion power generator that is already up there in the sky?

Humanity will eventually (hopefully) venture into space. The further out we go the less useful solar panels become. I don't think you'll supply a Mars colony (or one on the icy moons of Saturn or Jupiter) on solar power.
And when it comes to powering spacecraft drives you want a big power source that you can refuel wherever you go.

There's also the issue that some places on Earth are 6 months in the (near)dark (or generaly night-time issues where solar doesn't work so hot). though to be fair, for that use case we could be in a race between fusion and getting a good storage for renewables up and running.

Some industries are also very power hungry (e.g. in the future saltwater desalination will be a big industry). They could use a power source like fusion that is not in danger of poisoning the basis for their product.

Mar 23, 2019
Attempting to control plasma in a fusion reactor is like squeezing a balloon and not expecting the part you squeeze to bulge.

Man , is THIS a stupid analogy.
OF COURSE it won't bulge where you are squeezing!

Mar 24, 2019
The production of antimatter by particle accelerator is highly inefficient... to make enough anti-matter to have a point in storing it for some purpose, you will be consuming the average electric power output of the United States. NASA estimates the production costs for 1 gram of antimatter to exceed $62 trillion
Very nice researching. And you're right, major new power sources would be needed for the process.

If you were to ask some engr back at the beginning of ww2 if there would ever be enough excess power to run a machine like the LHC, what do you think they would say?
https://en.wikipe...type.png

-But the fact remains that antimatter is the most concentrated power source we know of, and so we will continue to be looking for ways of storing and applying it...
Cont>

Mar 24, 2019
using the most reactive substance in the universe for storing energy is theoretically interesting, but practically moronic
-Almost as dumb as the idea of propelling a spacecraft with a series of nuclear explosions. The future is not for the timid little eikka.
It's in the same club with the idea of storing large amounts of electricity in superconducting electromagnets, where, if the superconductivity is lost the magnet wire will vaporize and explode instantly
The quench problem goes away with room temp superconductors. But regular transformers explode all the time, no?

Perhaps you prefer a more benign form of transportation?
https://youtu.be/F9V9CJIn--k

-or power storage?
https://youtu.be/FB2g_q0n8mI

Mar 24, 2019
Heres the potential price we're willing to pay for storing energy in concentrated form for propellant. In this case SRB fuel
https://youtu.be/gGSx54CkWsQ

-In this case for munitions
https://youtu.be/ThLloZOTBKo

-boom.

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