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admin 07.01.2016

Thomas Jarboe, a University of Washington (UW) professor of aeronautics and astronautics with Brian Nelson, research associate professor of electrical engineering; and research associate Brian Victor, research scientists David Ennis, Nathaniel Hicks, George Marklin and Roger Smith and graduate students Chris Hansen, Aaron Hossack, Cihan Ackay and Kyle Morgan, all in UW aeronautics and astronautics are using two handle-shaped coils to alternately generate currents on either side of the central core of a plasma chamber. The team is calling the idea Imposed Dynamo Current Drive (IDCD) with results showing the plasma is stable and the method is energy-efficient.
A computer drawing of the Imposed Dynamo Current Drive prototype, Click image for more info.
This idea competes with the tokamak, the donut idea that has the plasma swirling around inside.  The ITER tokamak in France is a multibillion-dollar fusion reactor built to see whether a big enough reactor can generate fusion power by injecting high-frequency electromagnetic waves and high-speed hydrogen ions to contain and sustain the plasma by maintaining a hot 100-million-degree operating temperature while enclosing it with magnetic fields.
The problem remains, crushing and smashing the atoms together takes a lot of energy, and scientists are still working on a way to do it so you get out more energy than you put in.
The team’s research could help contain and stabilize the plasma using as little as 1% of the energy required by current methods.  Jarboe presented the findings last week at the International Atomic Energy Association’s 24th annual Fusion Energy Conference in San Diego.
The new UW equipment looks like two handles from coffee mugs – except they are attached to a vessel containing a million-degree plasma that is literally too hot to handle.  Essentially the magnets are simple horseshoe designs facing each other with a 90? offset.


The result is a stable equilibrium – if disturbed the fields will tend to come back toward the original state, like a ball resting at the bottom of a bowl that will settle back where it started.
Jarboe explains, “Here we imposed the asymmetric field, so the plasma doesn’t have to go unstable in order for us to drive the current. The UW apparatus’ two horseshoe-shaped coils alternately generate currents on either side of the central core, thus an imposed dynamo current drive.  Results show the plasma is stable and the method is energy-efficient.
But the UW research reactor is too small to fully contain the plasma without some escaping as a gas.
Jarboe’s team has worked two decades on “helicity injection” where spirals in the plasma produce asymmetric currents that generate the right electric and magnetic fields to heat and confine the contents as a more efficient alternative.
It seems Jarboe and his team has explored plasma handling pretty thoroughly.  If “Big Fusion” such as the ITER program has any hope of ever getting to net power some incredibly innovative ideas are going to have to be integrated.
The Jarboe team may well be on to something worth an intense look.  The tokamak has a complex confinement shape to try to control while the UW IDCD is a far simpler confinement shape.


Both IDCD and the tokamak rely on magnetic fields to crush the plasma into fusion – an idea that tries the common sense.  But the IDCD looks like a much more manageable and probable way to get plasma atoms to join up and spill off energy. Keeping the plasma hot enough and sustaining those magnetic fields requires a lot of energy. The sun for example is a powerful fusion reactor but scientists haven’t recreated a full-scale sun here on Earth. Next, the team hopes to attach the device to a larger reactor to see if it can maintain a sufficiently tight magnetic bottle. It’s like a stick balancing on one end, which is stable in one moment, but is likely to come crashing down with any nudge.



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