Accelerating Towards Nuclear FusionCategory: Science & Technology
Posted: May 14, 2012 02:03PM
Rome was not built in a day, and neither will be the next generation of large-scale clean energy sources. Nuclear fusion reactors have the potential to provide all the electricity the world needs with a minimal environmental impact. Creating a controlled self-sustaining fusion reaction is not easy though, so researchers are taking measured steps towards that goal. One of these steps is the newly finished Neutralized Drift Compression Experiment II (NDCX-II) accelerator at Berkeley Lab.
The fuel for nuclear fusion reactors will be hydrogen isotopes super-heated into a hot plasma. In this state, the fuel can be difficult to control, so researchers want to better understand it, but first they are looking at a precursor to hot plasma; warm dense matter. It is called warm because it is only in the thousands of degrees kelvin, as opposed to the hot millions of degrees the fuel plasma will be at. It is also denser than plasma, but still not as dense as a solid, so it is just dense matter. Understanding how to efficiently create warm dense matter will lead to an improved understanding of how to make a hot plasma for fusion reactors.
The NDCX-II accelerator will create the warm dense matter by firing a compressing ion beam at a foil target. When the ion beam is created, the rear is made to have a higher speed than the front, causing the beam to drift into a dense packet. To help the compression occur, the beam passes through a plasma to neutralize the ions, that would normally repulse each other. This is why it's called the Neutralized Drift Compression Experiment.