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
- Lasers could soon trigger fusion energy, researchers predict on December 13, 2017 at 4:46 pm
Dec. 13 (UPI) --Laser-driven fusion energy is a realistic goal and one within reach, according to a new paper published this week in the journal Laser and Particle Beams. An international team of scientists argue laser and fusion technologies are advancing ... […]
- Fusion breakthrough explained: What are quarks again? on December 13, 2017 at 8:05 am
Fusion describes a general process in which particles recombine to form new particles, because the new particles need less energy to exist than the old ones did. According to a paper published online in Nature on Nov. 1, researchers have calculated the ... […]
- Laser-boron fusion now 'leading contender' for energy on December 13, 2017 at 7:30 am
A laser-driven technique for creating fusion that dispenses with the need for radioactive fuel elements and leaves no toxic radioactive waste is now within reach, say researchers. Dramatic advances in powerful, high-intensity lasers are making it viable ... […]
- Physicists Win Supercomputing Time to Study Fusion and the Cosmos on December 12, 2017 at 12:19 pm
The highly competitive awards from the DOE Office of Science’s INCITE (Innovative and Novel Impact on Computational Theory and Experiment) program will accelerate the development of nuclear fusion as a clean and abundant source of energy for generating ... […]
- IAEA Coordinated Research Project Generates New Quantum Data on Hydrogen Fusion on December 12, 2017 at 7:10 am
A recently completed coordinated research project (CRP) has improved the understanding of fundamental atomic and molecular processes necessary to progress in the development of fusion as a future source of energy. Specifically, the project generated and ... […]
- Fusion GPS tried to tie Trump to Clinton’s pedophile pal Epstein as part of smear campaign on December 11, 2017 at 6:24 pm
The call blindsided Mr. Page, a New York energy investor who had no idea a dossier time bomb lay ready to destroy his life. The call also showed that Fusion can summon the top of Washington’s journalism food chain to run down its tips. The Wall Street ... […]
- Scientists close to developing nuclear fusion STAR with same energy as SUN to power homes on December 8, 2017 at 9:35 am
The UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) is trying to secure a £1billion contract to develop technology for use in the first nuclear fusion power plants. Nuclear fusion is a limitless, safe energy sources from plentiful materials from seawaterand the Earth ... […]
- Nuclear fusion project faces delay over US budget cuts: director on December 8, 2017 at 2:17 am
ITER's job is to build a testbed to see if nuclear fusion -- the limitless energy source that powers the Sun -- can be a realistic source of clean and cheap power for the 21st Century. So far achieved in a handful of labs at great cost, the process entails ... […]
- Is the World's First Nuclear Fusion Plant Finally on Track? on December 7, 2017 at 9:44 am
"With ITER and fusion energy, we have a chance to leave a powerful and positive legacy for future generations, instead of the current energy outlook," Bernard Bigot, director-general of ITER, told Live Science. [Top 10 Craziest Environmental Ideas] Nuclear ... […]
- A colossal fusion project just hit a big milestone on December 7, 2017 at 6:03 am
ITER members include the European Union, the U.S., Russia, China and India. The project will use hydrogen fusion, controlled by "superconducting magnets," to generate heat energy. This heat is planned to be used in commercial facilities to drive turbines ... […]
via Google News and Bing News