Fusion Power on Horizon

Tuesday, May 26, 2015 @ 04:05 PM gHale

The goal for the next five years is to eliminate a barrier that will show fusion power is a safe, clean and affordable source of electric energy.

Luis Delgado-Aparicio, a physicist at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory since he joined the Plainsboro, NJ-based lab in 2009, is one of 44 winners of the Early Career Research award nationwide and the third researcher at the lab to win. The award is a five-year $2.6 million research grant from the Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

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Fusion occurs when a super-hot electrically-charged gas called plasma heats to temperatures hotter than the sun’s core and becomes dense enough to fuse atoms, creating a burst of energy.

“Obviously there are some challenges to confining something so hot,” Delgado-Aparicio said.

His research focuses on eliminating any impurities that cool the plasma or inhibit the fusion reaction. Delgado-Aparicio will use the funding to develop a process for researchers to identify, analyze and flush these imperfections out of the plasma, he said.

“We want something very stable,” he said. “If you remove the impurities, you will have a much cleaner fuel.”

Delgado-Aparicio plans to study how the impurities react with the plasma by using an X-ray diagnostic to show what happens to the plasma when imperfections are introduced.

The device will reveal their size and location and the kind of energy they radiate, which will identify the sources and properties of how they are transported in fusion plasmas, he said. The test will also show how the impurities affect the energy and temperature of the plasma.

Delgado-Aparicio’s findings will have implications on the National Spherical Torus Experiment-Upgrade, a nearly three-year $94 million project at the Plainsboro lab, and other experiments in France and Switzerland.

Physicists worked on a National Spherical Torus Experiment from 1999 to 2011 and are currently working on the machine’s upgrade that will essentially double the power of the reactor by increasing plasma heat, electrical current and magnetic field strength.

The new machine will transform its plasma reactor into what scientists said will be one of the most advanced in the world.

“We are in a very, very exciting time,” he said. “We are going to have a fantastic reactor here in Princeton that will be very useful for future developments.”

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