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posted by cmn32480 on Friday December 11 2015, @03:25PM   Printer-friendly
from the we'll-have-fusion-in-10-years-maybe dept.

The Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics (IPP) is reporting a successful startup of the experimental Wendelstein 7-X fusion device.

On 10th December, the day had arrived: the operating team in the control room started up the magnetic field and initiated the computer-operated experiment control system. It fed around one milligram of helium gas into the evacuated plasma vessel, switched on the microwave heating for a short 1,3 megawatt pulse – and the first plasma could be observed by the installed cameras and measuring devices.

"We're starting with a plasma produced from the noble gas helium. We're not changing over to the actual investigation object, a hydrogen plasma, until next year," explains project leader Professor Thomas Klinger: "This is because it's easier to achieve the plasma state with helium. In addition, we can clean the surface of the plasma vessel with helium plasmas."

The objective of fusion research is to develop a power source that is friendly to the climate and, similarly to the sun, harvests energy from the fusion of atomic nuclei.


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  • (Score: 2) by dublet on Friday December 11 2015, @05:11PM

    by dublet (2994) on Friday December 11 2015, @05:11PM (#275032)

    Looks like a pretty sweet kind of device but there's no mention of how much energy it needed to produce that 1.3MW. I'll presume a lot more than that.

    • (Score: 5, Informative) by Immerman on Friday December 11 2015, @05:38PM

      by Immerman (3985) on Friday December 11 2015, @05:38PM (#275053)

      Why? They fired a short 1.3MW microwave pulse into the gas to create a plasma. Last time I checked microwave generators are fairly mature technology and not terribly inefficient, so I would expect the input energy to be not terribly higher than that.

      Note that they're not talking about generating 1.3MW of fusion power - at this point they're not generating any power at all, presumably just testing their ability to generate and contain plasma (at 0.1s of plasma duration they're probably not even testing containment much - just checking for gaping huge holes.). Think of it like flipping on your freshly-built computer to make sure all the components are working. You're not planning to do anything with it just yet, you just want to make sure all the conections have been made properly. It's not until next year that they'll switch over to hydrogen and attempt to generate fusion. And while I'm not terribly familiar with this project, with a $1b Euro price tag I would suspect that this generator is scaled to produce excess power, even if it's not suitable as a commercial reactor.

      Overview for those interested: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wendelstein_7-X [wikipedia.org]

    • (Score: 1, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 11 2015, @06:14PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 11 2015, @06:14PM (#275076)

      You can't characterize an amount of energy as being "a lot more than [1.3MW]", because megawatts are a unit of power.

    • (Score: 3, Informative) by frojack on Friday December 11 2015, @09:04PM

      by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Friday December 11 2015, @09:04PM (#275150) Journal

      You do know that this version of the device is never intended to produce power, or even break even, right?
      This is a research project for plasma containment only. So it doesn't matter how much power it took, because
      there was never an expectation of return.
      TFA:

      Wendelstein 7-X, the world's largest stellarator-type fusion device, will not produce energy. Nevertheless, it should demonstrate that stellarators are also suitable as a power plant. Wendelstein 7-X is to put the quality of the plasma equilibrium and confinement on a par with that of a tokamak for the very first time. And with discharges lasting 30 minutes, the stellarator should demonstrate its fundamental advantage – the ability to operate continuously. In contrast, tokamaks can only operate in pulses without auxiliary equipment.

      --
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      • (Score: 2) by HiThere on Friday December 11 2015, @09:17PM

        by HiThere (866) on Friday December 11 2015, @09:17PM (#275154) Journal

        While there never was an expectation of positive return, it DOES matter how much it takes to run it.

        OTOH, that 1.x Megawats was over a really short period of time. It was probably supplied by a bank of capacitors. So I doubt that it involved much power.

        Still, he's studying design of containment, so his goal is going to be to cheaply contain plasmas..and part of cheap containment is cheap initialization. Not a big concern unles he's planning for some kind of pulsed power system, and that's more of a laser fusion kind of concept.

        --
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  • (Score: 2) by rts008 on Friday December 11 2015, @06:00PM

    by rts008 (3001) on Friday December 11 2015, @06:00PM (#275066)

    Well, I'm glad to see that Klinger finally escaped the Army and Korea.

    On a more topic friendly note:
    I'm also glad to see ongoing progress and research in this field. If it pans out, one day(hopefully sooner than later) we will finally have sustainable, clean energy.
    One hope I have is to see the Fallout Micro-Fusion devices come into this world for real. :-)

    • (Score: 1) by WalksOnDirt on Friday December 11 2015, @11:29PM

      by WalksOnDirt (5854) on Friday December 11 2015, @11:29PM (#275220) Journal

      ...we will finally have sustainable, clean energy.

      How clean do you want it? This device, once it is producing power, will create many neutrons. They will make nearby materials radioactive, which will need disposal. This will only be somewhat cleaner than advanced fission reactors, which we have also not yet built but they look a lot easier.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 12 2015, @03:35PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 12 2015, @03:35PM (#275423)

        some elements, if fused, dont produce neutrons ... or how i like to call them "zippers" because they activate stable shit and then "zip" they decay down the chain. ^_^

  • (Score: 2) by fritsd on Friday December 11 2015, @10:10PM

    by fritsd (4586) on Friday December 11 2015, @10:10PM (#275177) Journal

    I googled for the images of the device's coils, this article from 2010 shows one:

    http://webmoritz.de/2010/06/27/ipp-wissenschaftler-raumen-ab/ [webmoritz.de]

    Article is in German, click on the picture to enlarge it and see how smug those two men and that magnet look. It's worth it.

    Can you imagine, you have had weirder topological nightmares than Kekulé [wikipedia.org] or Möbius [wikipedia.org], and then you have the audacity to approach the Max Planck institute and ask for:

    "Please sir, can I have 1 billion € funding to build something like the ITER Tokamak [wikipedia.org], except with a completely unproven design with precision-made wonky giant magnets forming a D_5h point group symmetry(*)? Fusilli hold the sauce better than Tagliatelli, after all. It probably won't blow up the neighbourhood when I put several million Ampères through it."

    (*) is it a D_5h? it looks like one. A bit like the the ferrocene sandwich [wikipedia.org], with respect to its five c2 rotation axes, if you know what I mean.

    To me this device proves that there are just some people who are really lots better at mathematics than all of the rest of us. Genius.

    • (Score: 2) by slinches on Saturday December 12 2015, @04:21AM

      by slinches (5049) on Saturday December 12 2015, @04:21AM (#275299)

      Nah, I think they intended to make it circular, but accidentally dropped it.

  • (Score: 2) by MichaelDavidCrawford on Saturday December 12 2015, @02:47AM

    by MichaelDavidCrawford (2339) Subscriber Badge <mdcrawford@gmail.com> on Saturday December 12 2015, @02:47AM (#275279) Homepage Journal

    when solid surfaces are exposed to the air, air molecules stick to them and continue sticking to them even if under vacuum, however they very slowly outgas. This leads to a minimum gas pressure one can draw; to get to a lower pressure one must wait for the outgassing to proceed. You can speed this up by scrubbing it with electrified gas, which is what they're doing with the helium.

    --
    Yes I Have No Bananas. [gofundme.com]
  • (Score: 1) by kazzie on Saturday December 12 2015, @03:28PM

    by kazzie (5309) Subscriber Badge on Saturday December 12 2015, @03:28PM (#275422)

    Hold on, we've got a Klingon developing a plasma-powered fusion device here on earth?

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 12 2015, @03:40PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 12 2015, @03:40PM (#275425)

    any ideas or comments on how energy is going to be extracted from stellerators or tokamaks?
    same old same old ... boil water run a thermodynamic turbine?
    is there no "fancy" way to harness the magnetic fields that surely alter after a element has tarnsformed from two hydrogen
    magnetic field sources to one helium element?