New experiments are combining the old form of nuclear fusion in need and hope to create power with a low cost and an excellent versatility. The plasma confinement called the Z-pinch is now gaining the scientist’s attention in the hope to create a feasible way to generate power. A team of researcher from the University of Washington in the US is trying to find a way to overcome its deficiency.
What is nuclear fusion power?
Nuclear fusion power is a form of power generation that could generate electricity by using heat. The heat comes from nuclear fusion reactions. A fusion process can be possible if we have a fuel and an environment with sufficient temperature, pressure, to create plasma. In the plasma designed fusion will occur. If we take example our space, the stars contain hydrogen and with the combination of gravity, then the conditions needed for fusion energy are created. Taking about stars, the Sun is the best and most notable example.
However, for creating this mix in a laboratory is challenging, so the scientists are using the strong magnetic field for that. The Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak is the example of a reactor that spins the hot plasma that it’s generating their own internal magnetic fields.
The purpose is to make the plasma to release a critical amount of energy. On the other hand, in Germany, we have the Wendelstein 7-X that relies on banks of externally applied magnetic fields, which are in control over the plasma, but it’s harder to reach the temperatures needed for fusion to happen. With both systems, the researchers have made some progress for touching the ideal generation of fusion power.
But having big containers that hold the plasma, multiple banks of electronics are making the process much harder, and for sure they can’t make them shrink for using in a home or mobile version.
Nuclear fusion power is one step closer to becoming a reality
The fusion researches have taken place to a more straightforward method for compressing the plasma through a magnetic field. It is known as Zeta or Z-pinch, a little device that uses the specific orientation of plasma’s internal magnetic field. With this operation being made, it can apply a Lorentz force to flow the particles together through a bottleneck. Of course, the system still has stability issues that can make the plasma jump from the magnetic tracks and hit the sides of the container. But the researchers from the University of Washington have found a new alternative for Z-pinch.
The problem with the previous Z-pinch was that the plasma was going wild from time to time and it was smashing the sides of the container. The alternative was to add a few fluid dynamics to manage the flow of the particles. They have introduced a sheared axial flow to a short column of plasma, that in previous studies was shown that this is a way of improving stability in a Z-pinch, and to limit the effect.
For doing that they have used computer simulations to show how the concept is possible. The team used a mix of 20 percent deuterium and 80 percent hydrogen to hold a stable long (50 centimeters) column of plasma, to achieve nuclear fusion power. After that, the stability was 5,000 times longer than anyone expected to be. So maybe those principles are suitable for further study.
Summing up, the idea of generating clean, abundant fusion energy with a new approach that has a less complicated form of plasma technology, could help the scientists remove some obstacles. And maybe in time, they could prove that this method could be cheaper, could have a more compact source of clean power.
Dee Mongo is a graduate of UFT. She’s based in Toronto and has written for Maclean’s, Motherboard, the National Post, and the Huffington Post. In her spare time, she plays AC/DC on the ukulele and does psychic readings for B-grade celebrities. Dee is our tech/finance correspondent.