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
- Laser fusion reactor approaches ‘burning plasma’ milestoneon November 26, 2020 at 3:58 pm
A decade and nearly 3000 shots later, NIF is still generating more fizz than bang, hampered by the complex, poorly understood behavior of the laser targets when they vaporize and implode. But with new ...
- Physicists make landmark discovery in how stars get their energyon November 26, 2020 at 2:59 pm
For the first time in history, scientists have detected the energy cycle that fuels the stars. In an article published Wednesday in the scientific journal Nature, physicists described their ...
- Scientists find neutrinos from star fusion for the first timeon November 26, 2020 at 1:04 pm
Scientists have detected neutrinos traced to star fusion for the first time, confirming physics theories dating back to the 1930s.
- Borexino spots solar neutrinos from elusive fusion cycleon November 25, 2020 at 9:26 am
Neutrinos produced by the elusive carbon–nitrogen–oxygen (CNO) cycle in the Sun have been observed for the first time – confirming a theory first proposed over 80 years ago. The observation was made ...
- This Nuclear Fusion Reactor Is Damn Close to Burning Plasmaon November 25, 2020 at 7:00 am
The National Ignition Facility bombards fuel with lasers to reach productive fusion. The fuel pellet is held inside a golden crucible that scientists are constantly redesigning. Scientists are doing ...
- Government investment in fusion energy boosts British economy by £1.4 billionon November 24, 2020 at 3:18 am
The British economy has gained £1.4 billion from the Government’s direct investment in fusion energy over the past decade and an average of 4,000 jobs each year. The findings were revealed in an ...
- Lehigh's Plasma Control Group awarded $1.5 million DOE grant for fusion researchon November 20, 2020 at 9:22 am
How is the future of fusion power shaping up? It could boil down to a question of apples versus donuts. Lehigh University's Plasma Control Group has been awarded more than $1.5 million in funding from ...
- Neutrinos yield first experimental evidence of catalyzed fusion dominant in many starson November 19, 2020 at 4:00 pm
Scientists report the detection of neutrinos from the sun, directly revealing for the first time that the carbon-nitrogen-oxygen (CNO) fusion-cycle is at work in our sun.
- Tungsten develops layers under fusion reactor extreme heat conditionson November 19, 2020 at 7:03 am
In tokamaks, magnetic confinement devices being explored for use as nuclear fusion reactors, anomalous events can cause a transfer of energy with 10 million times the intensity of the solar radiation ...
- Fusion Fuel Green plc and HL Acquisitions Corp. Announce Partnership with EREE Desarrollos Empresariales SLon November 18, 2020 at 1:53 pm
HL Acquisitions Corp and its business combination partner, Fusion Fuel Green plc, jointly announced that Fusion Fuel has entered into a partnership with EREE Desarrollos Empresariales SL to deploy its ...
via Google News and Bing News