Demonstration of reduced neoclassical energy transport in Wendelstein 7-X


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Research on magnetic confinement of high-temperature plasmas has the ultimate goal of harnessing nuclear fusion for the production of electricity. Although the tokamak 1 is the leading toroidal magnetic-confinement concept, it is not without shortcomings and the fusion community has therefore also pursued alternative concepts such as the stellarator. Unlike axisymmetric tokamaks, stellarators possess a three-dimensional (3D) magnetic field geometry. The availability of this additional dimension opens up an extensive configuration space for computational optimization of both the field geometry itself and the current-carrying coils that produce it. Such an optimization was undertaken in designing Wendelstein 7-X (W7-X) 2 , a large helical-axis advanced stellarator (HELIAS), which began operation in 2015 at Greifswald, Germany. A major drawback of 3D magnetic field geometry, however, is that it introduces a strong temperature dependence into the stellarator’s non-turbulent ‘neoclassical’ energy transport. Indeed, such energy losses will become prohibitive in high-temperature reactor plasmas unless a strong reduction of the geometrical factor associated with this transport can be achieved; such a reduction was therefore a principal goal of the design of W7-X. In spite of the modest heating power currently available, W7-X has already been able to achieve high-temperature plasma conditions during its 2017 and 2018 experimental campaigns, producing record values of the fusion triple product for such stellarator plasmas 3 , 4 . The triple product of plasma density, ion temperature and energy confinement time is used in fusion research as a figure of merit, as it must attain a certain threshold value before net-energy-producing operation of a reactor becomes possible 1 , 5 . Here we demonstrate that such record values provide evidence for reduced neoclassical energy transport in W7-X, as the plasma profiles that produced these results could not have been obtained in stellarators lacking a comparably high level of neoclassical optimization.
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