Considered the holy grail of energy production: nuclear fusion. If it were possible to simulate the sun on Earth and fuse hydrogen nuclei into helium nuclei on a large scale, almost all of today’s energy problems would be solved in one fell swoop. Just one gram of fuel can generate 90,000 kilowatt-hours of energy in a power plant. The heat of combustion is about 11 tons of coal. But this requires extreme conditions. It takes temperatures of several million degrees Celsius and sophisticated hot plasma control technology. Until now, all of this has only been possible on an experimental scale — and without any significant energy return.
Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics (IPP) have developed a way to dramatically reduce the distance between the hot plasma and the vessel wall – from 25 to less than 5 centimeters. This could enable smaller and cheaper fusion reactors to be built for power generation, They write for Physical Review Letters.
“We specifically use a so-called X point emitter for this – a phenomenon that we discovered about a decade ago in experiments,” says IPP researcher Matthias Bernert. According to a statement from the institute. It is the peculiarity of fusion plasmas confined in a magnetic field. Nitrogen is added to remove a large portion of the thermal energy from the plasma. This converts thermal radiation into ultraviolet light. When this pollution exceeds a certain level, a point X emitter occurs. Then a small, dense volume is formed, which radiates especially strongly in the ultraviolet range. “The added impurities give us somewhat weaker plasma properties, but if we place the point X emitter in a targeted manner by varying the nitrogen input, we can perform experiments at higher power levels without damaging the system,” Bernert explains.
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