Researchers at MIT have developed a solution to a big challenge facing the potential development of fusion power plants: how to get rid of excess heat.
It was originally thought that heat would cause structural damage to such a plant. However, the new solution was made possible by a new approach to compact fusion reactors, using high-temperature superconducting magnets.
This method, MIT said, formed the basis for a massive new research program launched this year at MIT and the creation of an independent startup company to develop the concept.
Unlike typical fusion plants, the new design would make it possible to open the device's internal chamber and replace critical components, a capability essential for the newly proposed heat-draining mechanism.
It's really a revolution for a power plant design
Professor Dennis Whyte, director of MIT's Plasma Science and Fusion Center, said the shedding of heat from inside a fusion plant can be compared to the exhaust system in a car.
In the new design, the "exhaust pipe" is much longer and wider than is possible in any of today's fusion designs, making it much more effective at shedding the excess heat. But the engineering needed to make that possible required a great deal of complex analysis and the evaluation of many dozens of possible design alternatives.
MIT's final design, known as ARC - meaning advanced, robust, and compact - features magnets built in sections so they can be removed for service. This makes it possible to access entire interior and place secondary magnets inside the main coils instead of outside.
This is opening up new paths in thinking about divertors and heat management in a fusion device
Just by moving them closer to the plasma in this new arrangement, they can be significantly reduced in size, the scientists said.
"You want to make the 'exhaust pipe' as large as possible," Whyte explained, adding that the placement of a secondary magnet inside a primary one makes this possible.
"It's really a revolution for a power plant design."
Not only do the high-temperature superconductors used in the ARC design's magnets enable a compact, high-powered power plant, he said, "but they also provide a lot of options" for optimising the design in different ways, including, it turns out, this new divertor design.
Going forward, now that the basic concept has been developed, there is plenty of room for further development and optimisation, including the exact shape and placement of these secondary magnets, the MIT researchers said.
They are also working on further developing the details of the design.
"This is opening up new paths in thinking about divertors and heat management in a fusion device," added Whyte.
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