The first plasma: the Wendelstein 7-X fusion device is now in operation

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On 10th December 2015 the first helium plasma was produced in the Wendelstein 7-X fusion device at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics (IPP) in Greifswald. After more than a year of technical preparations and tests, experimental operation has now commenced according to plan. Wendelstein 7-X, the world’s largest stellarator-type fusion device, will investigate the suitability of this type of device for a power station.

Following nine years of construction work and more than a million assembly hours, the main assembly of the Wendelstein 7-X was completed in April 2014. The operational preparations have been under way ever since. Each technical system was tested in turn, the vacuum in the vessels, the cooling system, the superconducting coils and the magnetic field they produce, the control system, as well as the heating devices and measuring instruments. 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 first plasma in the machine had a duration of one tenth of a second and achieved a temperature of around one million degrees. “We’re very satisfied”, concludes Dr. Hans-Stephan Bosch, whose division is responsible for the operation of the Wendelstein 7-X, at the end of the first day of experimentation. “Everything went according to plan.” The next task will be to extend the duration of the plasma discharges and to investigate the best method of producing and heating helium plasmas using microwaves. After a break for New Year, confinement studies will continue in January, which will prepare the way for producing the first plasma from hydrogen.

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29 COMMENTS

  1. Fusion is a ‘safe’ form of enerfy generation from nuclear, but it is extremely tricky to achieve here on earth. Tricky in the sence of getting it going and susstaining it. Fusion (bombs and current nuclear power stations) on the other hand is not safe as it is like trying to get energy for a stick of dynamite by forcing it to go off very slowly….

    We want the safe. We want power stations that simply stop when they fail rather than going boom. We want stations that produce little or no dangerous waste. We want Fusion. But as I said it’s tricky to get happening in the first place and then sustain it to generate more energy than you out in….

    Previous attempts were using the tokamak model of a toroidal D configuration but that proved hard to make work. It is thought the Wendelstein configuration will work better and lead to a more efficient configuration that will lead to a device that will sustain the plasma long enough to produce significantly more energy than it consumes and thus render it a valid method of safe clean energy production with out the fear of it taking a county or two with when it goes…

    BTW: I’m just regurgitating my understanding of all this off the top of my head… It could all be wrong. In specifics and in general….

  2. This is huge. They’re essentially testing the world’s premiere of fusion generation, the same process that keeps the sun bright and burning. Fusion reaction has almost a 99% energy efficiency, which is to say all that goes into it gets used. To put it in perspective, our mechanical engines to date have an efficiency of about 13%, because combustion requires an ignition source which then burns the product and for one cycle to complete, the kinetic energy within has already run out, so more is needed. Fusion energy is clean, efficient and this is the beginning of all that.

  3. We’ve already got a fusion reactor going right now. It safe. If needs no maintenance. It won’t go bang for around another 10 billion years. And it generates energy at such a rate that in just one day, enough energy falls on the continent of Australia to power the world for an entire year, with not one gram of carbon being burnt. I know that we all like machines that go Ping, but if the objective is to produce electricity for the world, then we’ve wasted our money, which could have been better spent on converting our existing fusion reactors energy, to electricity.

  4. You’re right, but having that reactor millions of miles away makes things less convenient.
    We have to use a lot of energy and exhaustible resources (e.g. silicon) to create stuff like solar panels and wind turbines that harness that energy with relatively low efficiency levels.

    Having a fusion reactor makes things more convenient without adding problems like the need of non renewable fuels and producing waste. (if it works)

  5. Well i dont know much about it, but i’m quite sure it don’t have 99% energy efficiency. In fact one of biggest technical challenges was to make it efficient at all(Not having to put more energy than get it back).

  6. Hey you don’t need to tell me. I’m a paid up card carrying (metaphorically) member of the U.K. Green Party. I’m soo for renewable. Wind, Solar and Tidal to name but three. We need better short and long term storage, (batteries/capacitors/whatever). We need better distribution (high temp super conducting mains). And so on…

    But also there is nothing wrong in pursuing this technology. Who knows the push for better, more efficient containment may yield those super conducting cables, or those ultra efficient batteries.. Or.. Or. …. Or actually who knows where this research may lead us, but it at the edge of discoveries where we should contstantly strive to live and operate.

    BTW your name tollattly sounds like you should be a doctor. …. “Dr David R Allen”. If you are not then I think that is a real missed opportunity 🙂

  7. 27.7% of the planet is silicon.

    The ultimate fossil fuel though is Dueterium. Unlike all the other elements and their isotopes made in stars it is made only once during the big bang. By weight only 0.02% of the planet is water, only 0.0156% of which hydrogen source is deuterium. This isotope needs energetic extraction becoming increasingly difficult to extract as it dilutes in the oceans.

    Yes there is enough to sustain our energy usage for a million years at our current level, but it is a pity to use up (too much) a portable fuel that could take populations to the stars, or even speed goods around the colonies set up at the lagrange points in nearby earth space.

    Deuterium is the Diesel of Destiny….

    1.5 trillion barrels equivalent of solar energy fall on the planet per day. Making some of that energy do some work before just heating the planet seems, well, particularly clever. Generating yet more heat by destroying matter and adding to the heat input to the planet doesn’t seem quite so clever…

  8. When I attended a training course once, my name bar at the front of my desk had the D and the R close together. The guest lecturer remarked that having a Doctor do the training was admirable. For the duration of that course, I was Doc Allen.

    Someone like Phil Rimmer will come up with the killer solution to conversion of solar energy to planet earth useful energy. The first law of thermodynamics (Forgive me if I’ve got this wrong) talks about energy never being created or destroyed, just converted from one form to another. We have the energy input stream. We just need the converter.

  9. Diesel trucks can hit about 45% efficiency now and small cars are getting there.

    http://www.epa.gov/otaq/models/ngm/may04/crc0304c.pdf

    The technology exists to take it to 55% and in static situations in CHP (combined heat and power) the numbers may top 70%.

    Given the prospect of biodiesel and green gas from sewage, the current technologies are nearer still than fusion to meeting more of our demands given sufficient political endorsement.

    Don’t forget we have a ton of thorium and that is much nearer utilisation.

  10. The point at issue here is to not further fuel peoples’ reasons for delaying actions on Anthropogenic Global Warming or creating sustainable economies in the hope of some astonishing new technology providing the fix. People need to know that all the necessary technology is here now. All it needs is the political will and up front investment to reach the economic critical mass and fine tune the details.

    Tokomaks are life limited due to the wall damage due to neutron flux. This does indeed generate nuclear waste and ongoing material cost.

    The implementation cost and learning cycle even when lab successful will push this technology the traditional 20 to 50 years back to commercial realisation. (Zeta started it in the fifties.)

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ZETA_(fusion_reactor)

    FWIW my company was asked to quote on the control system for the anti-wriggle electro-magnets for the later Culham developments. (Pinching plasma, it wriggles around rather, reducing concentration.)

  11. As far as I know 1 gram of matter has 0.03 Terawatts/h , that’s huge when you think about it. I doubt we are talking about the same efficiency when we look at fuel. Maybe it’s a different scale

  12. Gravimetric energy density is the measure you are struggling for, not efficiency.

    C^2 is a big number, but so what? Chemical energy doesn’t generate high neutron flux and can be retrieved in engines that don’t have to weigh hundreds of thousands of kilograms.

    When I was a kid I hungered for this, It was one of the reasons I specialised in plasma physics. But its not for jobs we have to do now.

  13. Ohnhai
    Dec 10, 2015 at 10:32 pm

    We want the safe. We want power stations that simply stop when they fail rather than going boom. We want stations that produce little or no dangerous waste. We want Fusion.

    Fusion will take time to develop.
    In the meantime if we can stop silly macho politicians playing “my bomb is bigger than your bomb”, and building obsolete dangerous uranium reactors, we should be developing generation using Thorium Molten Salt Reactors, along with improved efficient buildings, wind, tidal, solar, hydro-electric, ground heat storage, geothermal, etc.

    http://www.itheo.org/thorium-energy-conference-2012
    The world is waking up to the huge potential of Thorium to solve the looming energy crisis; ThEC12 in Shanghai was the event of the year for everyone with an interest in the future of Thorium Energy and its many related fields. China is taking the lead in exploring fresh approaches to nuclear fission in its quest for sustainable, environment-responsible energy that can be delivered reliably and in quantity.

  14. It is amusing how asymmetrical the device is, and how it looks like it sprang from the mind of a movie set designer who normally does death stars.

    Is there any hint how close we are to a reactor that produces useful energy?

  15. phil rimmer
    Dec 11, 2015 at 4:54 am

    The ultimate fossil fuel though is Dueterium. Unlike all the other elements and their isotopes made in stars it is made only once during the big bang. By weight only 0.02% of the planet is water, only 0.0156% of which hydrogen source is deuterium. This isotope needs energetic extraction becoming increasingly difficult to extract as it dilutes in the oceans.

    Yes there is enough to sustain our energy usage for a million years at our current level, but it is a pity to use up (too much) a portable fuel that could take populations to the stars,

    There is quite a lot of water in the oceans and ices of the moons, dwarf planets, and comets, of the outer Solar-System, so hopefully we can mine some of that if we get a far as interplanetary or inter stellar travel.

  16. @OP link – As the fusion fire only ignites at temperatures of more than 100 million degrees, the fuel – a thin hydrogen plasma – must not come into contact with cold vessel walls. Confined by magnetic fields, it floats virtually free from contact within the interior of a vacuum chamber. For the magnetic cage, two different designs have prevailed – the tokamak and the stellarator.

    In addition to providing electrical generation on Earth, this has potential to be combined in future with ion drive electric rocketry, to provided drives for interplanetary craft, or inter-stellar probes or ships.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/06/vasimr-rocket-mars_n_7009118.html
    VASIMR Rocket Could Send Humans To Mars In Just 39 Days
    NASA has selected Texas-based Ad Astra Rocket Company for a round of funding to help develop the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket, or VASIMR. The new rocket uses plasma and magnets, not to lift spacecraft into orbit but to propel them further and faster once they’ve escaped the planet’s atmosphere.

  17. When discussing this last here I proposed Enceladus was the fuel station for the stars. Mostly water…

    I still think we have plenty more appropriate things to use it for. The costs only ever go up. We must learn to use it though.

  18. phil rimmer
    Dec 11, 2015 at 5:00 pm

    When discussing this last here I proposed Enceladus was the fuel station for the stars. Mostly water…

    Perhaps followed by Pluto or other Kuiper Belt objects or Eris: –
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuiper_belt
    Kuiper belt objects are composed largely of frozen volatiles (termed “ices”), such as methane, ammonia and water. The Kuiper belt is home to three officially recognized dwarf planets: Pluto, Haumea, and Makemake.

    The Kuiper belt was named after Dutch-American astronomer Gerard Kuiper, though he did not actually predict its existence. In 1992, 1992 QB1 was discovered, the first Kuiper belt object (KBO) since Pluto.[7] Since its discovery, the number of known KBOs has increased to over a thousand, and more than 100,000 KBOs over 100 km (62 mi) in diameter are thought to exist

    Perhaps with another later fuel pick-up in the Oort Cloud!

  19. There’s an awful lot of hot, sun-soaked deserts around the world without anything better going on than being filled up with solar energy conversion arrays. I haven’t looked up costs and lifecycles of the latest PV generating kit, or the efficiency. Do you know?

  20. Silicon PV is about 25% and life span about 25 years, though both of these are going up. Great new designs exist for InGaN multjunctions that when, say, sea water cooled, could net 70% conversion and deliver desalinated water. High temperature solar thermal tops 40% and has the ability to time shift its power delivery. Systems like these are maintainable. If you look up say the Credite Suisse reports on the cost of energy, you will see they report it as a levelised cost of energy, the cost including all necessary maintenance and replacement.

    Photosynthesis is about 1% efficient. Improving this would be awesome.

  21. Cork Evans
    Dec 12, 2015 at 4:06 am

    There’s an awful lot of hot, sun-soaked deserts around the world without anything better going on than being filled up with solar energy conversion arrays.

    In addition to photovoltaic generation, there is also solar-thermal – with liquid-salt heat storage to operate at night.

    http://cleantechnica.com/2013/10/14/worlds-largest-solar-thermal-plant-storage-comes-online/

    Concentrated solar thermal is again making the news, with the world’s largest parabolic trough array with thermal storage – opening for business in Arizona.

    The 280 MW Solana Generating Station constructed by Spanish group Abengoa has six hours of molten storage capacity that will allow it to produce energy into the evening, and deliver output according to the needs of the customer.

    The 375 MW Ivanpah project, the largest solar power tower in the world, has delivered to the grid for the first time and is due to start full operations within the next few months, as is the 110 MW Crescent Dunes facility in Nevada, which will be the world’s largest solar power tower project with molten salt.

    Also, the first commercial scale solar thermal plant with storage, the Gemasolar plant in Spain, recently marked its second anniversary by delivering electricity 24/7 for 36 consecutive days.

  22. Olgun
    Dec 12, 2015 at 6:03 am

    We can now start invading countries for their sunshine

    I think they already beat you to it on this idea, but it is on hold at the moment because of the political instability initially caused!

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/can-north-africa-light-europe-solar-power/

    Part of the plan is to erect a network of solar plants that generate electricity by concentrating the heat from sunlight to make electricity, generating 100 gigawatts or the equivalent of 100 large nuclear power plants. Another part is to develop a grid of high-voltage transmission lines that can carry the power from Morocco, Jordan, Tunisia, Egypt and Algeria to power-hungry markets in Europe.

    The overall plan has already attracted billions of dollars in investments from blue-chip German companies and the World Bank as well as palpable excitement among supporters. They see it as a way to fight climate change, help Europe meet its renewable energy targets and create badly needed jobs in troubled Middle Eastern countries.

    But the estimated €400 billion ($566 billion), 40-year endeavor also has invited critics who question whether the region is politically stable enough for such development, and whether it’s wise to create a new dependence on another source of energy from the Middle East. Others doubt the project will bring lasting benefits to North Africa. They see it as a repeat of resource exploitation — albeit “green” exploitation — on the African continent.

  23. The Bussard Polywell (electrostatic confinement) seems like a much simpler idea to me. Watch this video of Robert Bussard’s plea to google or anyone to the note of their work. It’s quite moving. He says the physics is solved, only engineering is left. http://youtu.be/rk6z1vP4Eo8

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