Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Fusion Innovation in the News

Fusion Innovation 

This week's fusion news is all about innovation. 

First, MIT's press release by David Chandler entitled  A small, modular, efficient fusion plant. Prof. Dennis Whyte and colleagues have long advocated for the "high-field" approach for tokamak-based fusion. Advances in superconducting magnet technology could be the key technology that will make fusion energy affordable. As the magnetic field strength increases, the tokamak can be made much smaller (i.e. much smaller than ITER). With a smaller size, fusion can develop "in as little as a decade", as oppose the 30-year time frame that has become the joke of fusion research promises.

The other news is from Irvine, CA. Dan Clery reports in Science Exclusive: Secretive fusion company claims reactor breakthrough. (Dan Clery has written a nice book about fusion and several news articles about fusion researchers, including Fusion's Restless Pioneers.) In truth, Tri Alpha is not so secretive. They publish in Physical Review Letters and present invited lectures at the Annual Meeting of the APS Division of Plasma Physics. They're funded by private equity, and intellectual property is the current state of their business. But, Tri Alpha reports their results frequently, and they're making good scientific progress. 

Interesting contrast between these two stories: while MIT advocates higher and higher toroidal field, Tri Alpha is investigating magnetic confinement without any toroidal field at all.

Fusion energy has proven to be more difficult than most scientists realized decades ago. But, new technologies (like high-field superconducting magnets) and new ideas (like fusion confinement without a strong toroidal field) the prospects for fusion breakthrough only improve.

Monday, February 10, 2014

10 Years Ago at Aspen

10 Years Ago at Aspen

Marty Hoffert organized an influential and optimistic review:


Marty and co-authors (including myself) concluded, "that a broad range of intensive research and development is urgently needed to produce technological options that can allow both climate stabilization and economic development."

It was an exciting time. Recall also the growing importance of U.S. energy security issues. Each year, the U.S. was importing more and more of its energy abroad, and we were involved with serious conflicts in the Middle East.

Advanced science and technology promised a long-term solution to our energy and climate needs, but maybe also a short-term solution. Marty and Ken Caldeira organized a terrific workshop at the Aspen Global Change Institute, entitled Energy Options and Paths to Climate Stabilization (July 6-11, 2003).

I was invited to speak about Fusion Energy: Pipe Dream or Panacea. My lecture was recorded and available online: [Mauel, Fusion Energy Lecture (July 2003)].

What has changed in 10 years?

First, the U.S. energy security has improved due to advances in tight oil and shale gas production.

Second, our optimism about NIF and ITER has proven to be over stated. Initial experiments during the NIF ignition campaign did not achieved hoped-for results. Serious cost and schedule delays have side tracked an European "fast track" to fusion energy.

Nevertheless, fusion science and technical know-how continues to advance. Although tokamak instabilities and localized heat flux issues have turned out to be more challenging than expected, ITER construction progresses. Nonlinear laser-plasma interactions have become better understood, but point to the need for higher driver energies to achieve ignition. Smaller research programs have been terminated due to budget cuts imposed to pay for ITER cost over escalations, but even these smaller programs are making progress.  (The MIT-Columbia LDX experiments were more successful than expected, but the U.S. DOE narrowed configuration optimization and redirected research overseas.)

Somehow, I remain optimistic and enthusiastic about fusion energy science research, although 10 years wiser than during my 2003 lecture at Aspen. Fusion inspires innovation and discovery because we need to control ionized matter at 200 million degrees. Very exciting. Someday, these innovations and discoveries will make fusion energy commercially viable, probably, in a configuration that few recognize today.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Video of High-Density He Plasma with 200 micron Polystyrene Dust (and some metal flakes!)

Video of LDX High-Density Plasma with Dust

Here's a fund video from August 16, 2013 showing high-density plasma dynamics (at 66 fps).

The CH pellets are dropped from the top, and barely penetrate the high-density (high temperature) plasma. Note also some small metal (?) flakes that appear suspended below the superconducting coil.


Friday, August 30, 2013

Star Power (the video) from PPPL

Star Power (the video) from PPPL

With gorgeous video records of our sun (from TRACE and SOHO), PPPL has produced an inspirational video about fusion energy research. See

The video includes speeches by President Obama and Kennedy and notes the long-time international collaboration for fusion research.

They video makes clear the enormous challenges that must be overcome to make fusion practical. By including the testimony of the young students, they correctly imply that it will be the next generation of fusion scientists that will make fusion practical.

There are discoveries ahead!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Powering the Future: What will fuel the next thousand years?

CBS NEWS/ August 26, 2013, 5:40 AM

Many thanks to CBS Interactive and to Chenda Ngak for their work in creating a timely and well presented interview and discussion about fusion power.

Besides highlighting the differences between fission and fusion, the article put into perspective the time horizon for viable commercial energy. 

We have discoveries to make along the way to "age of fusion energy", sometime in the later half of this century

See video and article at CBS Interactive.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Energy Secretary Moniz Address's Climate Action Plan

Just returned from today's special address from Energy Secretary Moniz:

He focused on urgent tasks in support of President's Climate Action Plan and described the importance of his near-term agenda to the New York City metropolitan area. He delivered a very knowledgable talk and handled well the rude comments about fracking and radiation leaks from nuclear power plants.

I was disappointed from the lack of any direct comments about discovery-based long-term science research (like fusion science), but this forum was not the place.

Standing room only.

Wonderful to be at Columbia University!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Laboratory Magnetospheric Experiments at MIT

This week, August 14-16, 2013, I was part of the LDX Team conducting new experiments with the world's largest laboratory magnetosphere. 

The MIT-Columbia LDX experiment is the U.S.'s only steady state plasma confinement device. Very sophisticated superconducting magnets. A circular, high-field magnet is charged with 1.2 MA, and a carefully controlled "levitation" magnet is used to suspend the dipole magnet for hours of continuous experimentation.  Scientists for today's run: Jay Kesner, Darren Garnier, Phil Michael, Alex Zhukovsky, Rick Lations, Matt Worstell, Paul Woskov, Mark Chilenski, and (my daughter) Marin, shown in photo below:

The first day of running was productive in every respect. Fortyseven "shots" were taken. Cryogenics, control, power, heating, data acquisition systems were flawless. (Congratulations to the LDX Team!)

The new 0.4 mm CH pellet shaker worked well, showing interesting "pinch"/"pump-out" phenomena. New microwave diagnostics showed promising results. New multifrequency ECRH programming showed a clear relationship between resonant zone location, hot electron production, and plasma density.

Key Results

The direction of the particle pinch following pellet drop reverses depending upon the rate of gas fueling and plasma density. Pellet drops with low fueling (low density) result in an inward particle pinch. (See shots 011-013.) At higher fueling, the pellets caused particle "pump-out", an outward pinch. (See shots 025 and 035.)  At intermediate fueling, pellet drops caused no change in the density profile. In all cases, with full-power multi-frequency ECRH, the plasma profile appears "stationary" (and strongly peaked) indicative of the turbulent self-organization we've seen previously. Fast videography indicate that the pellets do not penetrate deeply into the plasma, so these overall "pinch"/"pump-out" effects are dramatic examples of non-locality: fast changes in the edge cause global responses to the plasma density profile.

The programmed timing of the 2.45 GHz changed from our usual "wedding cake" program (early shots < 014) to an "inverted wedding cake", where the 2.45 GHz was on from 2-8 sec. This made the production of trapped, hot/warm electrons by the 2.45 GHz obvious. 4 kW of 2.45 GHz heating produced > 100 J of plasma energy (> 25 msec energy confinement). (Probably, it also broadened the pressure profile and increased the radius of the plasma ring current.) Interesting, the 2.45 GHz did not change the plasma density to the same degree as it changed the plasma energy. In contrast, higher frequency ECRH produced plasma energy less efficiently, but it was much more efficient at producing plasma density.

Reflectometer results showed effects from the plasma cut-off, but further analysis (and signal processing) is required to determine whether a density profile can be obtained. Wed's run scanned only 4-6 GHz, but today's run will scan 4-8 GHz.

Broad-band fluctuations were observed with the 28 GHz homo-dyne receiver, which may become a useful diagnostic on global plasma fluctuation levels.

More Experiments Today!