Marking a new leap in reactor technology, the Wendelstein 7-X stellarator or nuclear fusion reactor has started working under high-quality magnetic fields, matching the complex design of the device.

This was confirmed by Sam Lazerson of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) in the United States along with his German counterparts.

W7-X, based in Greifswald, Germany is considered the largest and most sophisticated stellarator in the world. The PPPL, run by the U.S. government's department of energy operates at Princeton University's in Plainsboro, N.J and is the principal U.S. collaborator in the project.

Other collaborators on the U.S. team include Oak Ridge and Los Alamos National Laboratories and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The findings of the experts were published in the Nov. 30 issue of Nature Communications.

Built by the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics in Greifswald, the stellarator in Germany was completed in 2015 with a vanguard design.

What It Means?

The successful operation of W7-X means that fusion energy research has hit a new frontier and moved past the early decades' tokamak concept. The progress made by stellarators also means the new concept has gained traction in line with advances in plasma theory and computational power.

The W7-X success means the earlier weaknesses of the reactor concept has been duly addressed.

According to PPP sources, the margin of error in W7-X was minimal with the error field or deviation from the configuration being one part in 100,000.

The excitement over W7-X success is too high because it could herald stellarators as the future models of fusion reactors.

How It Functions?

In terms of function, stellarator works by compressing hot gas known as plasma, and fuel in a fusion reaction forming 3D or twisty magnetic fields that are different from the symmetrical or 2D fields created by legacy tokamaks.

The twisty configuration puts stellarators in better control of the plasma.

Technological Significance

Wendelstein 7-X is ahead because it can continuously hold super-hot plasma for more than 30 minutes at a time. The key to all reactor designs has been the ability to contain super-hot plasma for longer periods as an inexhaustible source of power.

W7-X uses two kinds of hydrogen atoms — deuterium and tritium. They are injected into a containment vessel with energy added to take out electrons from host atoms to form ion plasma for releasing huge amounts of energy.

In W7-X, the strong magnetic fields keep the plasma away from the walls produced by superconducting coils around the vessel from the electrical current running through the plasma.

The conventional design concept of reactors used to be Tokamak, which is a donut-shaped hollow metal chamber where the fuel is heated to temperatures above 150 million°C for making the hot plasma.

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