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
- Nuclear fusion: Building a star on Earth is hard, which is why we need better materialson March 2, 2021 at 7:31 am
Nuclear fusion is the process that powers the Sun and all other stars. During fusion, the nuclei of two atoms are brought close enough together that they fuse together, releasing huge amounts of ...
- Think About Taking Your First US Nuclear Fusion Powered Trip to Mars and Backon March 2, 2021 at 5:44 am
NASA LOS ANGELES, CA, March 02, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- via NewMediaWire -- US Nuclear (OTCQB: UCLE) and MIFTI’s fusion power generator would be ideal to power spaceship propulsion, as its nuclear ...
- New Analysis Promises Accelerated Development Of Fusion Poweron March 2, 2021 at 1:14 am
Tokamak Energy. A new analysis of experimental data from Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and Culham Centre for Fusion Energy demonstrates that spherical tokamaks can have an efficiency ten times ...
- "Bottled" ultracold plasma to help study the secrets of nuclear fusionon March 1, 2021 at 6:43 pm
As a soupy mix of electrons and ions that forms under certain conditions in the most extreme of environments, plasma is an inherently difficult thing to observe. Scientists have made a significant ...
- Supercomputer-Powered Machine Learning Supports Fusion Energy Reactor Designon February 25, 2021 at 2:05 pm
Energy researchers have been reaching for the stars for decades in their attempt to artificially recreate a stable fusion energy reactor. If successful, ...
- Carbon Capture, Hydrogen, Fission Or Fusion: Which Can Take Us To Net-Zero By 2050?on February 25, 2021 at 12:14 pm
Solar, wind, geothermal, hydropower, solar heat, fission & hydrogen have roles to play in the energy mix of the future. The priority, however, is to prepare for the electrification of everything & ...
- Scientists use supercomputers to study reliable fusion reactor design, operationon February 25, 2021 at 5:25 am
Nuclear fusion, the same kind of energy that fuels stars, could one day power our world with abundant, safe, and carbon-free energy. Aided by supercomputers Summit at the US Department of Energy's ...
- An aggressive market-driven model for US fusion power developmenton February 24, 2021 at 12:17 pm
Electricity generated by fusion power could play an important role in decarbonizing the U.S. energy sector by mid-century, according to a study from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, ...
- Report: Now's the time to invest in an American fusion pilot planton February 22, 2021 at 2:09 am
A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine has recommended that if the United States wants to capitalize on its contributions to multi-national projects like ITER ...
- Fuel for world’s largest fusion reactor ITER is set for test runon February 21, 2021 at 4:00 pm
Nuclear fusion experiments with deuterium and tritium at the Joint European Torus are a crucial dress rehearsal for the mega-experiment.
via Google News and Bing News