Fusion is the process that powers the sun, harnessing it on Earth would provide unlimited clean energy. However, researchers say that constructing a fusion power plant has proven to be a daunting task, in no small part because there have been no materials that could survive the grueling conditions found in the core of a fusion reactor. Now, researchers at Texas A&M University have discovered a way to make materials that may be suitable for use in future fusion reactors.
The sun makes energy by fusing hydrogen atoms, each with one proton, into helium atoms, which contain two protons. Helium is the byproduct of this reaction. Although it does not threaten the environment, it wreaks havoc upon the materials needed to make a fusion reactor.
“Helium is an element that we don’t usually think of as being harmful,” said Dr. Michael Demkowicz, associate professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. “It is not toxic and not a greenhouse gas, which is one reason why fusion power is so attractive.”
However, if you force helium inside of a solid material, it bubbles out, much like carbon dioxide bubbles in carbonated water.
“Literally, you get these helium bubbles inside of the metal that stay there forever because the metal is solid,” Demkowicz said. “As you accumulate more and more helium, the bubbles start to link up and destroy the entire material.”
Working with a team of researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, Demkowicz investigated how helium behaves in nanocomposite solids, materials made of stacks of thick metal layers. Their findings, recently published in Science Advances, were a surprise. Rather than making bubbles, the helium in these materials formed long channels, resembling veins in living tissues.
“We were blown away by what we saw,” Demkowicz said. “As you put more and more helium inside these nanocomposites, rather than destroying the material, the veins actually start to interconnect, resulting in kind of a vascular system.”
This discovery paves the way to helium-resistant materials needed to make fusion energy a reality. Demkowicz and his collaborators believe that helium may move through the networks of veins that form in their nanocomposites, eventually exiting the material without causing any further damage.
Demkowicz collaborated with Di Chen, Nan Li, Kevin Baldwin and Yongqiang Wang from Los Alamos National Laboratory, as well as former student Dina Yuryev from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The project was supported by the Laboratory Directed Research and Development program at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
“Applications to fusion reactors are just the tip of the iceberg,” Demkowicz said. “I think the bigger picture here is in vascularized solids, ones that are kind of like tissues with vascular networks. What else could be transported through such networks? Perhaps heat or electricity or even chemicals that could help the material self-heal.”
The Latest on: Fusion energy
- Mayo goes nuclear: Researchers study dynamics in fusion reactors using mayonnaise on May 23, 2019 at 6:59 am
Their work is of major interest to national labs, who are currently using these ideas to improve nuclear fusion experiments. Nuclear energy has long been touted as a (relatively) ... […]
- AI accelerates development of limitless fusion energy on May 23, 2019 at 2:15 am
(MENAFN - Asia Times) Artificial intelligence (AI), a branch of computer science that is transforming scientific inquiry and industry, could now speed the development of safe, clean and virtually ... […]
- Nuclear fusion: Here’s the latest entry in the ambitious race for clean, near-limitless energy on May 22, 2019 at 12:55 pm
In a world obsessed with energy, nuclear fusion is a tech that has promised so much, but delivered little. So far. Fusion is a star’s energy source. Every second, our Sun turns 600 million tonnes of ... […]
- Nuclear fusion: Creating artificial stars on May 21, 2019 at 7:34 am
Too little does the public hear about nuclear fusion — a process in which two light nuclei collide at high speed and fuse into a heavier nucleus — which is surprising considering the need for ... […]
- The New Nuclear: How A $600 Million Fusion Energy Unicorn Plans To Beat Solar on May 21, 2019 at 3:36 am
W alking with Michl Binderbauer into his 2-acre laboratory feels a bit like taking a factory tour with Willy Wonka. In one corner Binderbauer, chief executive of TAE Technologies, shows off a new ... […]
- Small Town Therapy's Album Of Modern Acoustic Fusion Available Now on May 20, 2019 at 12:48 pm
Adam was trying to reflect some of that energy and thinking about how a person's life and identity can be transformed by their circumstances and the world around them. Energy and movement." The duo's ... […]
- Machine Learning may help capture fusion energy on Earth on May 19, 2019 at 3:56 am
A team of researchers in the US have used Machine Learning (ML) to rapidly control plasma that fuels fusion reactions, paving the way to help Earth get the clean fusion energy that lights the Sun and ... […]
- Machine learning speeds modeling of experiments aimed at capturing fusion energy on Earth on May 17, 2019 at 12:07 pm
Machine learning (ML), a form of artificial intelligence that recognizes faces, understands language and navigates self-driving cars, can help bring to Earth the clean fusion energy that lights ... […]
- DIII-D National Fusion Program Completes Year-Long Facility Upgrade on May 16, 2019 at 12:29 pm
The new technologies installed during the 11-month upgrade will play a key role in developing the scientific basis for fusion as a reliable and nearly limitless energy source. When experiments ... […]
- The Fusion Reactor Next Door on May 14, 2019 at 9:44 am
The promise of fusion energy seems fantastic and unapproachable: It is the power behind the sun and the stars. The spark comes when hydrogen nuclei fuse to become heavier atoms. The tremendous burst ... […]
via Google News and Bing News