Pushing the Envelope With Fusion Magnets

David Fischer

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David Fischer sits next to the experiment’s vacuum chamber (lit up in blue), where the heat superconductor tapes will be installed for proton irradiation and in situ transportation existing measurement. His laptop computer reveals information acquired in such measurements — the basis for figuring out the vital existing. Credit: Zoe Fisher

MIT Energy Fellow David Fischer irradiates high-temperature superconducting tape to check its durability and get ready for the very first pilot combination plant.

“At the age of between 12 and 15 I was drawing; I was making plans of fusion devices.”

David Fischer keeps in mind maturing in Vienna, Austria, envisioning how finest to cool the heating system utilized to include the hot soup of ions called plasma in a blend gadget called a tokamak. With plasma hotter than the core of the sun being produced in a donut-shaped vacuum chamber simply a meter far from these magnets, what temperature level varies may be possible with various coolants, he questioned.

“I was drawing these plans and showing them to my father,” he remembers. “Then somehow I forgot about this fusion idea.”

Now beginning his 2nd year at the MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC) as a postdoc and a brand-new Eni-sponsored MIT Energy Fellow, Fischer has actually plainly reconnected with the “fusion idea.” And his research study focuses on the ideas that so engaged him as a youth.

Fischer’s early styles checked out a popular method to producing carbon-free, sustainable combination energy called “magnetic confinement.” Since plasma reacts to electromagnetic fields, the tokamak is created with magnets to keep the fusing atoms inside the vessel and far from the metal walls, where they would trigger damage. The more reliable the magnetic confinement the more steady the plasma can end up being, and the longer it can be sustained within the gadget.

Fischer is dealing with ARC, a blend pilot plant idea that uses thin high-temperature superconductor (HTS) tapes in the combination magnets. HTS enables much greater electromagnetic fields than would be possible from traditional superconductors, making it possible for a more compact tokamak style. HTS likewise enables the combination magnets to run at greater temperature levels, significantly lowering the needed cooling.

Fischer is especially thinking about how to keep the HTS tapes from breaking down. Fusion responses develop neutrons, which can harm lots of parts of a blend gadget, with the greatest impact on elements closest to the plasma. Although the superconducting tapes might be as much as a meter far from the very first wall of the tokamak, neutrons can still reach them. Even in decreased numbers and after losing the majority of their energy, the neutrons harm the microstructure of the HTS tape and in time alter the homes of the superconducting magnets.

Much of Fischer’s focus is dedicated to the impact of irradiation damage on the vital currents, the optimum electrical current that can go through a superconductor without dissipating energy. If irradiation triggers the vital currents to break down excessive, the combination magnets can no longer produce the high electromagnetic fields essential to restrict and compress the plasma.

Fischer keeps in mind that it is possible to decrease damage to the magnets practically entirely by including more protecting in between the magnets and the combination plasma. However, this would need more area, which comes at a premium in a compact combination power plant.

“You can’t just put infinite shielding in between. You have to learn first how much damage can this superconductor tolerate, and then determine how long do you want the fusion magnets to last. And then design around these parameters.”

Fischer’s knowledge with HTS tapes originates from research studies at Technische Universität Wien (Vienna University of Technology), Austria. Working on his master’s degree in the low temperature level physics group, he was informed that a PhD position was offered looking into radiation damage on covered conductors, products that might be utilized for combination magnets.

Recalling the illustrations he showed his daddy, he believed, “Oh, that’s interesting. I was attracted to fusion more than 10 years ago. Yeah, let’s do that.”

The resulting research study on the results of neutron irradiation on high-temperature superconductors for combination magnets, provided at a workshop in Japan, got the attention of PSFC nuclear science and engineering Professor Zach Hartwig and Commonwealth Fusion Systems Chief Science Officer Brandon Sorbom.

“They lured me in,” he chuckles.

Like Fischer, Sorbom had actually checked out in his own argumentation the impact of radiation damage on the vital current of HTS tapes. What neither scientist had the chance to analyze was how the tapes act when irradiated at 20 kelvins, the temperature level at which the HTS combination magnets will run.

Fischer now discovers himself supervising a proton irradiation lab for PSFC Director Dennis Whyte. He is constructing a gadget that will not just permit him to irradiate the superconductors at 20 K, however likewise instantly determine modifications in the vital currents.

He is delighted to be back in the NW13 laboratory, fondly called “The Vault,” working securely with graduate and Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program trainee assistants. During his Covid-19 lockdown, he had the ability to work from house on configuring a measurement software application, however he missed out on the day-to-day connection with his peers.

“The atmosphere is very inspiring,” he states, keeping in mind a few of the concerns his work has actually just recently promoted. “What is the effect of the irradiation temperature? What are the mechanisms for the degradation of the critical currents? Could we design HTS tapes that are more radiation resistant? Is there a way to heal radiation damage?”

Fischer might have the opportunity to check out a few of his concerns as he prepares to collaborate the preparation and style of a brand-new neutron irradiation center at MIT.

“It’s a great opportunity for me,” he states. “It’s great to be responsible for a project now, and see that people trust that you can make it work.”

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