Blowing bubbles: PPPL scientist confirms way to launch current in fusion plasmas

November 18, 2019

An obstacle to generating fusion reactions inside facilities called tokamaks is that producing the current in plasma that helps create confining magnetic fields happens in pulses. Such pulses, generated by an electromagnet that runs down the center of the tokamak, would make the steady-state creation of fusion energy difficult to achieve. To address the problem, physicists have developed a technique known as transient coaxial helicity injection (CHI) to create a current that is not pulsed.

Now, physicist Fatima Ebrahimi of the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) has used high-resolution computer simulations to investigate the practicality of this technique. The simulations show that CHI could produce the current continuously in larger, more powerful tokamaks than exist today to produce stable fusion plasmas.

"Stability is the most important aspect of any current-drive system in tokamaks," said Ebrahimi, author of a paper reporting the findings in Physics of Plasmas. "If the plasma is stable, you can have more current and more fusion, and have it all sustained over time."

Fusion, the power that drives the sun and stars, is the fusing of light elements in the form of plasma -- the hot, charged state of matter composed of free electrons and atomic nuclei -- that generates massive amounts of energy. Scientists are seeking to replicate fusion on Earth for a virtually inexhaustible supply of power to generate electricity.

The CHI technique replaces an electromagnet called a solenoid that induces current in today's tokamaks. CHI produces the critical current by spontaneously generating magnetic bubbles, or plasmoids, into the plasma. The new high-resolution simulations confirm that a parade of plasmoids marching through the plasma in future tokamaks could create the current that produces the confining fields. The simulations further showed that the plasmoids would stay intact even when buffeted by three-dimensional instabilities.

In the future, Ebrahimi plans to simulate CHI startup while including even more physics about the plasma, which would provide insights to further optimize the process and to extrapolate toward next-step devices. "That's a little bit harder," she says, "but the news right now is that these simulations show that CHI is a reliable current-drive technique that could be used in fusion facilities around the world as they start to incorporate stronger magnetic fields."
-end-
This work was supported by the DOE Office of Science (Fusion Energy Sciences). Calculations were performed in part by the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC), a DOE Office of Science User Facility at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California.

PPPL, on Princeton University's Forrestal Campus in Plainsboro, N.J., is devoted to creating new knowledge about the physics of plasmas -- ultra-hot, charged gases -- and to developing practical solutions for the creation of fusion energy. The Laboratory is managed by the University for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science, which is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://energy.gov/science

DOE/Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

Related Plasma Articles from Brightsurf:

Plasma treatments quickly kill coronavirus on surfaces
Researchers from UCLA believe using plasma could promise a significant breakthrough in the fight against the spread of COVID-19.

Fighting pandemics with plasma
Scientists have long known that ionized gases can kill pathogenic bacteria, viruses, and some fungi.

Topological waves may help in understanding plasma systems
A research team has predicted the presence of 'topologically protected' electromagnetic waves that propagate on the surface of plasmas, which may help in designing new plasma systems like fusion reactors.

Plasma electrons can be used to produce metallic films
Computers, mobile phones and all other electronic devices contain thousands of transistors, linked together by thin films of metal.

Plasma-driven biocatalysis
Compared with traditional chemical methods, enzyme catalysis has numerous advantages.

How bacteria protect themselves from plasma treatment
Considering the ever-growing percentage of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, interest in medical use of plasma is increasing.

A breakthrough in the study of laser/plasma interactions
Researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and CEA Saclay have developed a particle-in-cell simulation tool that is enabling cutting-edge simulations of laser/plasma coupling mechanisms.

Researchers turn liquid metal into a plasma
For the first time, researchers at the University of Rochester's Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE) have found a way to turn a liquid metal into a plasma and to observe the temperature where a liquid under high-density conditions crosses over to a plasma state.

How black holes power plasma jets
Cosmic robbery powers the jets streaming from a black hole, new simulations reveal.

Give it the plasma treatment: strong adhesion without adhesives
A Japanese research team at Osaka University used plasma treatment to make fluoropolymers and silicone resin adhere without any adhesives.

Read More: Plasma News and Plasma Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.