Stable Magnetized Target Fusion Plasmas

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Seattle, Washington
Project Term:
09/29/2017 - 03/28/2019

Critical Need:

Fusion energy holds the promise of virtually limitless, clean power production, but scientists have been unable to successfully harness it as a power source due to complex scientific and technological challenges and the high cost of research. To achieve fusion, a plasma fuel is heated to extremely high temperatures, causing its nuclei to fuse. However, it is challenging to maintain the temperature and stability of the plasma long enough for fusion to take place. In order to create the extremely high temperatures and densities required for fusion with today's technology, the reactor systems must be very large and complex, making the reactors - and fusion research in general - very expensive. Further innovations are needed to develop low-cost tools and approaches that will accelerate the achievement of viable fusion reactors that could dramatically improve the energy security of the United States with fully domestic, plentiful sources of fusion energy.

Project Innovation + Advantages:

The University of Washington (UW) will develop a new approach to generate edge transport barriers (ETBs), a way to confine and retain plasma heat. Many low-cost magnetized target fusion concepts rely on plasmas having sufficient energy confinement to reach the necessary densities and temperatures required for the large-scale production of fusion power. ETBs enable higher performance (better energy confinement), and more compact fusion plasmas for mainline fusion experiments. Unfortunately, state-of-the-art ETB generation is thought to be impractical for smaller and/or pulsed plasma experiments because it requires complex external magnetic fields, current profile shaping, and heating. The University of Washington team has recently discovered a new, simpler, approach to ETB generation that may be as effective as the state-of-the art approaches. Their method is to drive the current at the edge of a plasma while applying magnetic perturbations, thus injecting a corkscrew-like motion into the plasma, producing edge velocity shear that creates an ETB. If successful, this approach would allow ETBs to be used in smaller plasma systems, an important step on the pathway to fusion energy.


ARPA-E Program Director:
Dr. Scott Hsu
Project Contact:
Tom Jarboe
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