Metal clouds to protect fusion reactor walls from heat flux

By Brooks Hays  |  Aug. 7, 2017 at 11:35 AM
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Aug. 7 (UPI) -- How can scientists protect the structures that house fusion reactors?

Scientists in Belgium have shown that vapor clouds of liquid metal can successfully reflect heat during extreme temperature flux.

Today, fusion energy is only an ambitious idea. Researchers continue to build and test fusion reactors, but self-sustaining fusion has not yet been achieved. Still, some scientists are preparing for a future where fusion energy and fusion reactors are a reality.

Currently, fusion test facilities deploy tungsten walls, but these are unlikely to be able to withstand the heat generated by a fusion reactor in the future. Scientists at Ghent University modeled a replacement wall made of liquid metals.

Models showed tin or lithium metal can be liquified and vaporized when it is pushed through a mesh layer of tungsten. The cloud of liquid metal can self-repair damage caused by the reactor's hot plasma.

The metal vapor will grow and shrink as the cloud wall is bombarded by plasma. The vapor droplets will absorb much of the heat, allowing the wall to reflect the thermal energy across a larger area.

Researchers found the liquid metal cloud technology allows the tungsten wall to maintain a stable surface temperature, even as the reactor experiences extreme temperature fluxes.

Scientists detailed their work in the journal Nature Communications.

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