An almost limitless supply of clean energy has been brought one step closer to reality.
Scientists have developed a new way to make plasma fuel hot and dense enough to generate ‘significant’ fusion power.
While using nuclear fusion to power homes and businesses may still be some way off, the new plasma marks a major step in fusion power research.
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Scientists have developed a new way to make plasma fuel hot and dense enough to generate significant fusion power. Pictured is the Alcator C-Mod reactor – MIT’s custom tokamak where the new plasma was tested
THE NEW PLASMA
In most reactors, plasma is made up of just two ion species – deuterium and hydrogen or deuterium and helium-3, with deuterium dominating the mixture by up to 95 per cent.
But the new approach uses a fuel made up of three ion species: hydrogen, deuterium, and trace amounts of helium-3.
The scientists focus energy on the helium-3, which heats up to much higher energies because of its smaller fraction of the total density.
This allows the plasma to reach the range of activated fusion products.
Nuclear fusion is being looked to as a potentially limitless source of clean energy, created by the same core processes inside the sun.
Using intense heat, magnetic fields and pressure, the nuclei of lighter elements are fused together to create heavier elements, releasing energy in the process.
By containing this star-like process in specially designed reactors, engineers can fuse hydrogen atoms together to produce helium, harnessing the clean energy produced and potentially cutting dependency on fossil fuels.
In order for the reaction to take place, the super-heated gas – in a plasma state – is subjected to pressure, which essentially squeezes the atoms together and forced them to react.