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:: OSEL.CZ :: – New insulatorless electromagnets will allow long-term fusion reactions

Current extreme electromagnets in fusion experiments create huge magnetic fields, but are highly susceptible to high-energy particles, many of which appear during fusion. These electromagnets will not last very long in operation in a fusion power plant. New niobium-tin superconducting electromagnets can handle it.

Older tokamak TFTR.  Credit: US Department of Energy/Wikimedia Commons.

Older tokamak TFTR. Credit: US Department of Energy/Wikimedia Commons.

Tokamaks still play an important role in the legendary fusion energy race. In their fusion reactors and similarly in other types of fusion devices, high-energy plasmas, where fusion reactions must occur, possess an extremely strong magnetic field. It consists of very powerful electromagnets, which are an essential component of a fusion reactor.

However, at the same time, this is one of the main weaknesses of the entire fusion technology. Really hot neutrons emerge from the plasma cloud, which flies like angry wasps, insulating the electromagnets of the fusion reactor. They can damage this insulation, reduce the performance of electromagnets, and also significantly reduce their life.

Yoho Chai.  Credit: PPPL.

Yoho Chai. Credit: PPPL.

Yuhu Chai, head of research at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), acknowledges what that means. We won’t start fusion energy with current electromagnets. If we were to build and operate fusion power plants that run continuously for days, the current electromagnets would not live in them for very long. This fusion power plant will likely produce many more high-energy particles, than current fusion experiments.

Chai and others. They present a new type of magnet as a solution, creating a new type of superconductor from specially heated niobium-tin wires. Current can travel through this superconductor practically without disconnecting, and conductors made of this material do not need insulation. The resulting electromagnet would be less likely to be damaged by high-energy particles than fusion plasma. Its performance must also be improved.

The advantage of the new type of electromagnet is that its production for practical use should be simpler, and most importantly, cheaper. These electromagnets can operate at higher current densities, take up less space in the tokamak, and can generate stronger magnetic fields. According to Michael Zarnstorff of PPPL Leadership, this is revolutionary. The magnet is made of pure metal, without insulation, a great idea to simplify the process and erase many weak points.

Publications:

New Atlas March 6, 2022.

Superconductor Science and Technology 34: 105003.