Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) have uncovered critical new details about fusion facilities that use lasers to compress the fuel that produces fusion energy. The new data could help lead to the improved design of future laser facilities that harness the fusion process that drives the sun and stars.
Fusion combines light elements in the form of plasma — the hot, charged state of matter composed of free electrons and atomic nuclei — that generates massive amounts of energy. Scientists are seeking to replicate fusion on Earth for a virtually inexhaustible supply of power to generate electricity.
The researchers explored the impact of adding tungsten metal, which is used to make cutting tools and lamp filaments, to the outer layer of plasma fuel pellets in inertial confinement research. They found that tungsten boosts the performance of the implosions that cause fusion reactions in the pellets. The tungsten helps block heat that would prematurely raise the temperature at the center of the pellet.
“I was excited to see that we could make these unprecedented measurements using the technique we have been developing these past few years. This information helps us evaluate the pellet’s implosion and helps researchers calibrate their computer simulations,” said PPPL physicist Lan Gao, lead author of the paper reporting the results in Physical Review Letters. “Better simulations and theoretical understanding in general can help researchers design better future experiments.”