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The University of Seville proposes a nuclear fusion reactor that will be connected to the electricity grid within 10 years | technology



The current energy system is approaching its expiration date. Reserves of non-renewable fossil resources are insufficient for the growing demands, carbon removal policies make them obsolete and successive crises stress them to unprecedented limits. The future is going through a mixture of renewable sources and nuclear fusion, the generation of energy from the union of two nuclei of light atoms to form another nucleus. It is to imitate the sun for a safe, inexhaustible and non-polluted source. “A glass of water will provide energy for a family for 80 years,” says Eleonora Viszer, a member of the Department of Atomic, Molecular and Nuclear Physics at the University of Seville (USA) and founder of the Plasma Science and Technology Group. Fusion with Professor Manuel García Muñoz. Both of them participated today in the presentation of the tokamak, which is a reactor for the fusion of plasma particles, which was installed in the port of the Andalusian capital to connect it to the electricity grid after three phases that will be implemented over a period of 10 years. The initial investment exceeds five million euros.

The project that Seville has included in this energy race is called Fusion2Grid and involves the participation of Princeton University, its Institute for Plasma Physics, General Atomics (California, USA), Culham Fusion Energy Center (UK), and the European Fusion Consortium. EUROfusion, Seoul University and Skylife Inc., a US subsidiary responsible for the files. This team developed the SMART (Small Aspect Ratio) magnetic confinement tokamak.

This reactor traps fusion plasma (fuel) at temperatures of up to 100 million degrees Celsius and high pressures. Deuterium and tritium are used, the two heavier hydrogen isotopes that can be extracted from seawater (deuterium) or from the earth’s crust (tritium). Through fusion a new particle (alpha) is created which is helium and releases energy of 17.6 MeV [MeV]. As Viezzer, Princess of Girona Research Award, explains, an amount of deuterium and tritium similar to what goes into a teaspoon of coffee (2.5 grams), for example, can generate a similar amount of energy as a full field football. burning coal.

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The tokamak works by injecting a beam of high-energy neutral particles to reach the H-mode, from high confinement, which has the advantage of creating a very fine barrier where energy and particle transfer are minimized. The mode used in other reactors. This H mode produces high pressure gradients that are necessary for fusion and thus to increase reactor strength.

But this high confinement process, by registering such high edge pressure gradients, generates magneto-hydrodynamic perturbations that produce intermittently high thermal loads on the reactor walls, known as Localized edge modes (ELMs). To deal with it and achieve a balance of forces (compensation of plasma pressure with the fields produced by the coils and the fuel itself), the American device was designed in the form of a compact spherical tokamak, different from the traditional donut-shaped design. , with a high-temperature superconducting electromagnet and working with the plasma negative triangle (inverted D-shape). These properties translate into the ability to have the same confinement of the plasma at half the external energy, which is essential for system efficiency. “More electricity for less,” sums up García Muñoz. The downside is that the stability of the plasma has not yet been studied using this model.

The result is a reactor that will, for the first time in the world, use this negative triangle, is more compact, more efficient and more powerful, and capable of reaching higher pressures and fusion temperatures to generate up to ten million more energy per gram than in the combustion of fossil fuels.

With this reactor, Seville joins a nuclear fusion race that has already reached the essential stage needed to make it efficient: generating more energy than it needs for the process, which is known as net profit. Achieved last December by an American scientific team at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, 192 laser beams were focused on a hydrogen plasma the size of a “peppercorn” to generate three megajoules of energy using only two lasers.

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In this science marathon there are many runners. The UK expects to have its first prototype reactor in 2032, and ITER (the three-continent consortium to build the largest complex in France) has struggled to keep deadlines through this decade. Italian energy group Eni, in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), has confirmed that it “will have its first plant in the United States in 2025,” according to Monica Spada, head of research and technological innovation at the Italian company. . Madrid has a different technology reactor (TJ II Stellarator) than Seville in the CIEMAT National Fusion Laboratory.

The University of Seville also shared a recent record for fusion energy generation: 59 megajoules for five seconds. The experiment was conducted, by the EUROFusion consortium, at the Joint European Torus Instrument (JET), located in Oxford and which is the largest magnetic confinement fusion facility currently in operation worldwide. But the result produced energy that was 70% of that used to generate it.

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