Wendelstein 7-X produces first hydrogen plasma




Wednesday, February 3 was first a hydrogen plasma at 80 million degrees made in the Wendelstein 7-X stellarator. The plasma remained less than a second neatly within the magnetic field of the reactor, after which it disappeared again.

Chancellor Angela Merkel as a button in the Max Planck Institute in Germany Greifswald press to initiate the process. Due to its operation hydrogen was injected into the Wendelstein 7-X and then to produce a hydrogen plasma which a fraction of a second remained.

This plasma was formed by heating a very small amount of hydrogen gas with a pulse micro waves of two megawatts. Thus a extremely hot hydrogen plasma was formed with very low density. This means that the electrons are separated from the atomic nuclei. This process and these extreme temperatures are held in the hand by means of magnetic fields. As having a temperature of 80 million degrees would hit the wall, it would inevitably lead to major problems.

This is the second phase of the study in Greifswald. The first phase started on December 10, 2015 with test with helium. A plasma of helium is much less hot, to approximately six million degrees. These tests were, among other things in order to burn clean the inside of the walls of the plasma chamber. With the helium plasma has been 300 times formed a plasma, which has been working slowly to the six million degrees.

The second test phase with the hydrogen gas runs through the middle of March, after which the plasma chamber is opened and carbon tiles in order to protect the walls of the room to be installed. After this it should be possible to achieve much higher temperatures and longer form a plasma, up to ten seconds, explains Thomas Klinger on the website of the institute. About four years of age must discharges which take up to 30 minutes can be warmed up with 20 megawatts of power, wherein the plasma reaches a temperature of about 100 million degrees.

If it has been so far, there is no fusion yet. The fusion researchers who want to bring about the required mixture of heavy and super heavy hydrogen, namely deuterium and tritium. With those comments, the reactor is also radioactive, something the experiment in Greifswald is not built for.

hydrogen plasma in wendelstein Image of first hydrogen plasma in the Wendelstein 7-X

The reactor is constructed in order to investigate whether it is possible to actually produce energy with a Stellarator-reactor. The study should reveal whether a stellarator is indeed better maintain the balance of the plasma over a more familiar tokamak reactor. The latter is a fusion reactor in a donut shape. The problem of a tokamak is that it can not hold a plasma for extended period of time, because the plasma with a lot of effort must be taken into the donut shape by a huge amount of power.

In a fusion reactor as a stellarator can take on its natural form the plasma, so that it must be much easier to keep the plasma at the proper place. The magnetic cage, which has to contain the plasma, is formed by a strong magnet. The magnets should adopt complex shapes in a stellarator; it is therefore very difficult to calculate the correct shape. The Wendelstein 7-X consists of about 20 million parts that all have to fit with the utmost precision together.

The aim of the research is to eventually develop a power plant that generates energy by nuclear fusion, like the sun and stars do. A fusion process only starts at more than 100 million degrees, while the plasma may not come into contact with the walls of the reactor vessel. Those walls are extremely cold because the magnets must be cooled to near absolute zero -273.15 degrees Celsius.

In Cadarache in France is currently being built a tokamak reactor ITER. This reactor should already start running in 2016, but has been postponed until at least 2020. The first experiments are then hopefully in 2027 instead.


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