A team of researchers from China and the U.S. have made a huge breakthrough in generating fusion power.
Researchers have been studying atomic fusion for decades, but forming a reliable source of power has largely eluded scientists. According to a report from Phys.org, however, a team of physicists from the United States and China has discovered that the best way to increase the efficiency and strength of magnetic fusion energy might be increasing the plasma temperature to levels exceeding 100 million degrees Celsius.
The team was lead by Dr. Xianzu Gong from ASIPP and Dr. Andrea Garofalo from General Atomics in San Diego, CA. The team used both China’s EAST facility as well as the DIII-D National Fusion Facility, which is operated for the U.S. Department of Energy by General Atomics.
The breakthrough came as the research team was studying the “high-bootstrap current” scenario. This adds extra power to a self-generated, or “bootstrap” electrical current, which allowed the researchers to find an optimal tokamak configuration for creating energy using fusion.
By using magnetic fields to confine plasma, or ionized gas, the researchers were able to create temperatures that are hotter than the center of the sun. Under such conditions, ions fuse and release stored energy that can then be converted into electricity. In essence, it’s a mini solar core that can be applied to human uses.
The researchers were trying to fix what they called “kink mode” instability, or the wobbling of a system that reduced efficiency. The team moved the plasma closer to the vessel’s wall, which led to higher pressure and a suppressed kink mode. The plasma flowing through the areas of higher pressure faced less resistance from instability, and even resulted in a lower external injection of velocity.
Despite worries that moving the plasma closer to the machine’s wall would cause irreparable damage, it seemed to work. The reactor was not damaged, and the plasma was allowed to flow throughout with greater efficiency.
A press release detailing the research team’s findings can be read here.