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Science & Technology

Plasma heating method offers fusion boost

By T.K. Randall
August 22, 2017 · Comment icon 7 comments

MIT's Alcator C-Mod reactor. Image Credit: CC BY-SA 4.0 Bobmumgaard / MIT
Scientists have developed a new way of heating fusion plasmas inside tokamak nuclear fusion reactors.
Often seen as the Holy Grail of power generation, nuclear fusion is the same process that produces energy in the Sun and works by fusing hydrogen nuclei together to create helium.

Unlike nuclear fission which comes with the inherent risk of a meltdown, fusion is much cleaner and safer while the hydrogen fuel used by the process is so abundant that it is practically limitless.

Now researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have come up with a new way of heating fusion plasmas that brings the prospect of nuclear fusion energy one step closer.
According to the MIT press release, "the method has resulted in raising trace amounts of ions to megaelectronvolt (MeV) energies - an order of magnitude greater than previously achieved."

"These higher energy ranges are in the same range as activated fusion products," said research scientist John C. Wright of MIT's Plasma Science and Fusion Center.

"To be able to create such energetic ions in a non-activated device (not doing a huge amount of fusion) is beneficial, because we can study how ions with energies comparable to fusion reaction products behave, how well they would be confined."

Source: MIT.edu | Comments (7)

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by ROGER 7 years ago
My understanding of this is poor at best . Does this mean more heat energy being generated ? And it has to be converted to electrical power for our use ?
Comment icon #2 Posted by paperdyer 7 years ago
My understanding is low as well.  My understanding is fusion is defined as getting more energy out than you put into the reaction.  But as Roger asked, is this still sounds using heat energy to produce electricity similarly to the way a fission reactor works?  A great leap in technology, but still sounds a bit inefficient having to convert the heat to electricity.
Comment icon #3 Posted by TaintlessMetals 7 years ago
Essentially it allows them to better understand how to maintain a fusion reaction.
Comment icon #4 Posted by Tom the Photon 7 years ago
Yes to ROGER and paperdryer. This is 'just' another way of generating enormous amounts of heat to drive turbines that generate the electricity. Other ways include burning fossil fuels and nuclear fission. The problem is - to achieve fusion positively-charged particles must be forced together, but the forces between them are enormous (think of the strongest magnets you've played with, times a million million million million). This happens all the time inside stars where conditions are right: high density (lots of particles crammed together) and high temperature (particles are moving really, rea... [More]
Comment icon #5 Posted by Harte 7 years ago
We can already heat hydrogen to fusion temperatures. It's sort of dangerous when we don't have sure containment. Just like TaintlessMetals said, this will allow scientists to study the behavior of ultra-high temperature particles without having to worry about the fusion reaction that results with hydrogen. Having such particles on hand allows you to try different things with your containment method, which could lead to the sort of containment we'll have to have to make fusion power plants a reality. This is clearly stated in the front page U-M article: Harte
Comment icon #6 Posted by Harte 7 years ago
Non-activated fusion product: Figure it out from there. Hint - antonym. Harte
Comment icon #7 Posted by Harte 7 years ago
Tells you right there in the article. As I said. Harte

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