Fusion energy holds the promise of virtually limitless, clean power production. Although fusion has been demonstrated in the laboratory, scientists have been unable to successfully harness it as a power source due to complex scientific and technological challenges and the high cost of research. Most fusion research focuses on magnetic confinement (low plasma density) or inertial confinement (high plasma density), but hybrid approaches with intermediate densities, such as magneto-inertial fusion (MIF), could cost less because of their reduced size, energy, power density requirements. In MIF, an imploding shell called a liner compresses magnetically insulated plasma fuel, causing its nuclei to fuse. A device called a driver is used to deliver an immense amount of energy to the liner, imploding it and bringing the fuel to the high temperatures and pressures required for fusion. Attaining these fusion conditions is a very difficult technical challenge. Additionally, many current experimental techniques are destructive, meaning that pieces of the experimental setup are destroyed with each experiment and need to be replaced, adding to the cost and time required for research.
Project Innovation + Advantages:
Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), along with HyperV Technologies and other partners, will design and build a new driver technology that is non-destructive, allowing for more rapid experimentation and progress toward economical fusion power. The team will use a spherical array of plasma guns to produce supersonic jets that merge to create an imploding plasma liner. Because the guns are located several meters away from the fusion burn region (i.e., they constitute a “standoff driver”), the reactor components should not be damaged by repeated experiments. This will allow the team to perform more rapid experimentation, allowing them to better understand the behavior of plasma liners as they implode. If successful, the project will demonstrate the validity of this driver design, optimize the precision and performance of the plasma guns, and obtain experimental data on ram-pressure scaling and liner uniformity critical to progress toward an economical fusion reactor.
If successful, LANL’s work will validate a new driver approach, which will enable a low-cost, rapid development path towards economical fusion power.
LANL’s innovation could accelerate the development of cost-effective fusion reactors, which may provide a nearly limitless supply of domestic power and eliminate dependence on foreign sources of energy.
Fusion reactors offer nearly zero emissions and produce manageable waste products. If widely adopted, they could significantly reduce or nearly eliminate carbon emissions from the electricity generation sector.
LANL’s approach, if viable, could enable a low-cost path to fusion, reducing research costs to develop economical reactors.