A major problem with fusion is solved leading us closer to a perpetual energy source

The dynamics inside a fusion reactor are so complex sometimes the walls melt.
Stephen Vicinanza
Cutaway of a Fusion Reactor
Cutaway of a Fusion Reactor

Fusion reactor 

A team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics (IPP) and the Vienna University of Technology (TU Wein) has found a way to control Type-I ELM plasma instabilities, which can melt the walls of fusion devices. The work is published in the journal Physical Review Letters and referenced at Phys.org

Without a doubt someday it is possible to have fusion power plants providing sustainable energy resolving our long-standing energy problems. This is the main reason so many scientists throughout the world are carrying out research on this power source. The generation of power from this method actually mimics the sun.

A major problem with fusion is solved leading us closer to a perpetual energy source
The reactions in a fusion generator

For the method to work, plasmas must be heated to 100 million degrees Celsius in reactors. Magnetic fields enclose the plasma keeping the walls of the reactor from melting. The shell that forms around the plasma can only work because the outermost centimeters of the edge of that shell, called the magnetically formed plasma edge, are extremely well insulated.

There is however a problem with this way of enclosing the sun-level heat of the plasma. In that edge region, there are plasma instabilities, called edge localized modes (ELMs). ELMs occur frequently, during the fusion reaction. During an ELM, energetic particles from the plasma may hit the wall of the reactor, potentially damaging it.

In a move that would remind anyone of offering an original of something after many trials of different methods, only to find out the original is the right one, the researchers went back to a mode of operation that had been discarded previously.

Instead of large destructive instabilities potentially damaging the walls of the reactor. There can be many small instabilities that do not pose a risk of damaging the reactor’s walls.

"Our work represents a breakthrough in understanding the occurrence and prevention of large Type I ELMs," says Elisabeth Wolfrum, research group leader at IPP in Garching, Germany, and professor at TU Wien. "The operation regime we propose is probably the most promising scenario for future fusion power plant plasmas." The results have now been published in the journal Physical Review Letters.

The reactor is called a toroidal tokamak fusion reactor. In this reactor, ultra-hot plasma particles move at high speeds. Powerful magnetic coils ensure that the particles remain confined instead of hitting the reactor walls damaging it.

How a fusion reactor works is complicated, and the dynamics inside are also complex. The motion of the particles depends on the plasma density, temperature and magnetic field. How these parameters are chosen dictates how the reactor will function. When the smaller particles of plasma hit the walls or the reactor, instead of a round shape, the reactor takes on a triangular shape with rounded corners, but the shape is far less damaged then with a large ELM.

“It's a bit like a cooking pot with a lid, where the water starts to boil," Georg Harrer lead author of the paper explains. "If the pressure keeps building up, the lid will lift and rattle heavily due to the escaping steam. But if you tilt the lid slightly, then steam can continuously escape, and the lid remains stable and doesn't rattle."

This is a big step to having a continuous fusion reaction with huge energy potential. A perpetual energy source.

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