To create a climate-neutral society, many scientists are investigating the direction of nuclear fusion. They have been researching this method of power generation for decades. This can now be accelerated thanks to the Wendelstein 7-X experimental nuclear fusion reactor.
According to a recent study published in the journal temper nature Wendelstein 7-X has just taken an important step toward unlimited clean energy by harnessing the power of atomic fusion.
What is a star?
Wendelstein 7-X is the so-called star. Stellarators differ from more conventional, symmetrically built fusion reactors in that their facilities use more complex engineering structures with more bends.
The goal is the same as other fusion reactors: to create conditions that correspond to what goes on inside the core of the Sun. This is done by subjecting streams of plasma to unimaginably high levels of pressure and temperature, leaving atoms with no choice but to collide and fuse together, producing unprecedented amounts of usable energy.
Wendelstein 7-X uses an array of 50 superconducting magnets to hold the plasma in place as it rotates around a helical chamber.
In 2018, physicists working on this project broke new records for energy density. Pioneering experiments heated plasmas to extremely high temperatures of 20 million degrees Celsius (36 million degrees Fahrenheit), well above the sun’s temperatures, about 15 million degrees Celsius (27 million degrees Fahrenheit). Wendelstein 7-X will be able to reach even higher temperatures.
The engineering behind this advanced technology aims to overcome a typical obstacle in stars: a type of heat loss called “neoclassical transfer”. This happens when collisions between hot particles push some of the other particles out of their proper orbits, causing some of them to wander outside the magnetic field. On the Wendelstein 7-X, the magnetic field cage is specifically designed to prevent this.
Twice as warm as the core of the sun
To make sure this technique works well, scientists from the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) and the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics re-evaluated the stellar experiments. The diagnostic data collected showed that there was a significant decrease in neoclassical transmission.
This means that the high temperatures experienced by the physicists would not have been possible if the heat loss had occurred. So the magnetic field cage worked.
Novimir Pablant, a physicist at PPPL, said in a report from New Atlas. “It was a way of showing how important improvement is.”
Thus, this experiment demonstrated that Wendelstein 7-X is physically capable of trapping heat that can reach twice the temperatures found in the core of the Sun. But there is still a lot of work to be done, such as addressing other annoying heat loss issues.
More trials will be conducted in 2022, including a new water-cooling system that allows for longer trials. For now, nuclear fusion is still in play as a tool for a clean future.