Energy from nuclear fusion is CO2-free, safe, and inexhaustible. However, it is extremely difficult to achieve. The biggest problem of all is the turbulence that dissipates heat from the reactor. TU/e researcher Josefine Proll has received a grant from the Dutch Research Council (NWO) to investigate new ways to prevent this turbulence. Using new computer models that run on advanced supercomputers, she aims to develop reactors that are free of turbulence.
In nuclear fusion, two or more atomic nuclei are combined into a third heavier nucleus. If atoms of light elements such as hydrogen are fused, part of the mass is converted into energy. This energy can then be used for power generation. In contrast to nuclear fission, nuclear fusion does not produce nuclear waste. And it has the added advantage that the necessary resource (hydrogen) is abundant.
However, nuclear fusion faces some though challenges that have so far hindered its practical application. The extremely high temperatures that are required (over 100 million degrees Celsius), mean that the plasma has to be isolated inside a magnetic field to prevent the containing wall from melting. A second key challenge is the turbulence in the reactor, that causes the generated heat to leak away from the plasma.
Josefine Proll, Assistant Professor in the Department of Applied Physics at the TU/e, will use advanced computer models to analyse how exactly this turbulence is created, and how it can be prevented. Her research focuses on the effect of magnetic fields in the so-called stellarator, a new type of reactor that, she says, is best-placed to reduce unwanted turbulence in nuclear fusion.
The NWO grant for Proll is part of the NWO KLEIN Programme. KLEIN grants are intended for realising curiosity-driven, fundamental research of scientific urgency. They offer researchers the possibility to elaborate creative and risky ideas and to realise scientific innovations that can form the basis for the research themes of the future.