The Wendelstein 7-X fusion device, located at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics (IPP) in Greifswald, has produced the first helium plasma after 9 years of construction services and over one million man-hours.
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The facility was completed April last year, but commenced operation December 10 this year after over 18 months of extensive tests and technical preparations.
The Wendelstein 7-X fusion device is the largest stellarator in the world, and it is being tried to ultimately determine if could be used for a power station much later.
But before then, technical tests required that the vessel vacuum be tried and proven for efficiency, just as the cooling system, the superconducting coils as well as the magnetic field generated, the control system, the heating devices, and also the measuring devices.
When it was time to start up the Wendelstein facility, the magnetic field was fired up using a computer-assisted control system. This supplied about one milligram of helium gas into a plasma vessel that has been emptied, and then the microwave heating was activated to produce a 1,3 megawatt pulse – making it possible for measuring devices and cameras put up to observe everything that was going on as the first plasma was generated.
“We’re starting with a plasma produced from the noble gas helium. We’re not changing over to the actual investigation object, a hydrogen plasma, until next year,” said project leader Professor Thomas Klinger. “This is because it’s easier to achieve the plasma state with helium. In addition, we can clean the surface of the plasma vessel with helium plasmas.”
“We’re very satisfied,” stated Dr. Hans-Stephan Bosch, whose division is responsible for the operation of the Wendelstein 7-X. “Everything went according to plan.”
Having had a duration of one-tenth of a second and attained a heat of about 1 million degrees, the plasma will further be made to endure much longer to determine the best technique for generating helium plasma and heating it via microwave systems. When the team resumes in January, they will attempt to produce plasma from hydrogen.
The ultimate objective of the IPP team is to produce a power source that is environment-friendly and capable of being harnessed just like solar energy from the sun can be harvested after atomic nuclei is fused.
So far, it has cost 370 million euros to construct the Wendelstein 7-X, and the financing was done by state and federal governments as well as the European Union. The individual parts of the machine were constructed by several organizations across Europe.
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The Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology manufactured the microwave plasma heating; the superconducting magnetic coils as well as the measuring instruments were made by Jülich Research Centre; while the Polish Academy of Science based in Krakow installed the whole thing. Meanwhile, measuring instruments and auxiliary coils among other equipment were made by the American fusion research institutes based in Los Alamos, Princeton, and Oak Ridge.