Nuclear Fusion is notorious for “always being 5 years away”. However the bottom line is the technology is one of our best shots at clean consistent energy outside of fossil fuel, so it is important we stay abreast of any potential breakthroughs.
One of the issues we’ve had is keeping the plasma clean enough to remain as hot as it needs to be for nuclear fusion inside of the tokamak. Which is a ring shaped chamber that spins ionized plasma around at extreme temperatures and crushing density.
The space inside of a Tokamak is unfathomably hot, often rivalling the sun itself. There are very few elements that can withstand that kind of heat.. which are also common enough to build a tokamak. In fact Tungsten metal often leaches out of the walls and in to the plasma- cooling it down and ruining the reaction. Now we may have a solution for that.
Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory have found out that by sprinkling boron powder into the plasma you can not only prevent Tungsten impurity but also reduce greenhouse gas and long-term radioactive waste.
“The main goal of the experiment was to see if we could lay down a layer of boron using a powder injector,” said PPPL physicist Robert Lunsford, lead author of the paper reporting the results in Nuclear Fusion. “So far, the experiment appears to have been successful.”
Presently physicists inject diborane gas in to the plasma for the same reason but it is not very effective.
“Diborane gas is explosive, so everybody has to leave the building housing the tokamak during the process,” Lunsford said.
“On the other hand, if you could just drop some boron powder into the plasma, that would be a lot easier to manage. While diborane gas is explosive and toxic, boron powder is inert,” he added.
“This new technique would be less intrusive and definitely less dangerous.”
Another way they could do this is with boron gas. Unfortunately the conditions for that are much more strict- they would have to power down the entire engine as the gas cannot be added to the tokamak while it is still running,
Whereas the powder can be used to create ‘low-density plasma’ at any time. Having a wider window of opportunity for creating these different conditions in the Tokamak would allow physicists to better elucidate the behavior of plasma in general.
In conclusion- low density plasma, better enabled by this state of Boron can prevent the instability of magnetic fields in a Tokamak. Which is a relatively simple way to improve nuclear fusion.