Particle physics art

Compact fusion power plant concept uses advanced physics to improve power generation

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The Compact Advanced Tokamak (CAT) is a potentially economical solution for fusion power generation that takes advantage of advances in simulation and technology. Credit: Image courtesy of General Atomics. Tokamak graphic modified from F. Najmabadi et al., The ARIES-AT advanced tokamak, Advanced technology fusion power plant, Fusion Engineering Design, 80, 3-23 (2006).

Fusion power plants use magnetic fields to contain a ball of current-carrying gas (called plasma). This creates a miniature sun that generates energy through nuclear fusion. The Compact Advanced Tokamak (CAT) concept uses state-of-the-art physical models to potentially improve fusion energy production. The models show that by carefully shaping the plasma and the current distribution in the plasma, fusion plant operators can suppress turbulent vortices in the plasma. These vortices can cause heat loss. This will allow operators to achieve higher pressures and fusion power with lower current. This breakthrough could help achieve a state where plasma sustains itself and drives most of its own current.

In this approach to tokamak reactors, improved performance at reduced plasma current reduces stress and thermal loads. This alleviates some of the engineering and materials challenges faced by designers of fusion plants. Higher pressure also increases an effect where the movement of particles in the plasma naturally generates the required current. This greatly reduces the need for expensive current drive systems that undermine the potential electrical power of a melting plant. It also allows a stationary “always-on” configuration. This approach leads to plants that experience less stress during operation than typical pulsed approaches to fusion energy, allowing smaller and cheaper plants.

Over the past year, the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Fusion Energy Science Advisory Committee and the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine have published roadmaps calling for the aggressive development of fusion energy in the United States. Researchers believe that achieving this goal requires developing more efficient and cost-effective approaches to creating fusion energy than currently exists. The approach used to create the CAT concept developed new reactor simulations that take advantage of the latest physical knowledge of plasma to improve performance. The researchers combined a state-of-the-art theory validated at the National DIII-D fusion facility with state-of-the-art calculations using the Cori supercomputer from the National Center for Scientific Computing for Energy Research. These simulations identified a path to a concept allowing a more efficient and largely self-contained configuration that retains energy more efficiently than typical pulsed configurations, allowing it to be built at a reduced scale and cost.

Reference: “The advanced tokamak path to a compact net electric fusion pilot plant” by RJ Buttery, JM Park, JT McClenaghan, D. Weisberg, J. Canik, J. Ferron, A. Garofalo, CT Holcomb, J. Leuer, PB Snyder and the Atom Project Team, March 19, 2021, Nuclear fusion.
DOI: 10.1088 / 1741-4326 / abe4af

This work was supported by the Department of Energy Office of Science, Office of Fusion Energy Sciences, based on the DIII-D National Fusion Facility, a user installation of the DOE Office of Science and the AToM Scientific Discovery through Advanced Computing project.


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