The scientists at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, have successfully conducted a revolutionary nuclear fusion research experiment. They are using experimental reactor, the Wendelstein 7-X (W7X) which they called stellarator. They have managed it to sustain a hydrogen plasma which is a key step on the path to creating workable nuclear fusion. The German chancellor Angela Merkel, she also has doctorate in physics, she was honored to switch on the device at 2:35 p.m. GMT (9:35 a.m. EST).
As a clean, near limitless source of energy, it’s no understatement to say that controlled nuclear fusion (this replicating the process that powers the Sun) would change the world as we know. And there are several nations which are willing to make breakthroughs in this field. Germany is undoubtedly the frontrunner in one respect: This is the second time that they successfully fired up it’s experimental fusion reactor.
Last December, the team managed to suspend a helium plasma for the first time in the world history. And they’ve now achieved the same feat with hydrogen. Generating a hydrogen plasma is considerably more difficult than producing a helium, so by producing and sustaining in today’s experiment, even for just a few milliseconds, the researchers have achieved something trully remarkable.
As a power source, hydrogen fusion releases far more energy than helium fusion. Which is the reason why it is sustaining a superheated hydrogen plasma represents such a huge step for nuclear fusion research.
John Jelonnek, a physicist at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. Who led a team which were responsible for installing the powerful heating components of the reactor says. “We are not doing this for us,” he told for the Guardian, “we do this for our children and grandchildren.”
In order to initiate the fusion process, they must reach extremely high temperatures of around 100 million degrees Celsius (180 million degrees Fahrenheit) have to be reached within the reactor. At these extremely high temperatures, atoms of hydrogen become energetically excited.
At a high enough ignition temperature, along with the aid of an effect called “quantum tunneling” they begin to collide and fuse, releasing energy within a plasma cloud and forming heavier elements. In order for the plasma to be sustained, it must not touch the cold walls of the reactor. So the purpose of the 425 tonnes (470 tons) stellarator is superconducting, super cooled magnets are it is used to keep it suspended in one place.
This 16 meter long (52 feet) experimental fusion research reactor is one of the largest in the world. For it’s construction they took 19 years and spend €1 billion ($1.1 billion) to complete. This reactor is not designed to produce any usable energy, but rather recreate the conditions found deep within our Sun, to create a sustained super hot plasma, the energy source of a viable fusion reactor.
By successfully creating and capturing helium plasma last year, the scientists at the Max Planck Institute showed that it was certainly possible. This earlier plasma generation also “cleaned” out the stellarator, removing dirt particles that would have interfered with today’s more important hydrogen plasma generating tests.