April 23, 2024

Fusion power could supply clean, renewable, and safe energy. The stellarator is one technology scientists believe could be used to create real-world fusion power. In its simplest form, a stellarator is a machine that uses magnetic fields to confine the plasma within a donut-shaped structure known as a torus. Scientists can use these magnetic fields to control plasma particles and create conditions for fusion reactions. Stellarators employ extremely powerful electromagnets to develop twisting magnetic fields that wrap around the donut shape.

The Stellarators offer several advantages over tokamaks, the leading technology scientists are looking into for fusion power. Stellarators are less energy-intensive to maintain the plasma and have more design flexibility. They also allow for simplified plasma control. These benefits come at the expense of greater complexity, particularly for magnetic field coils.

Scientists have used high-performance computing and plasma theory to advance the design of stellarators. These tools were used to optimize the Helically Synthetic Experiment (HSX), a stellarator in Wisconsin, and the Wendelstein 7X stellarator from Germany.

Stellarator Facts

  • A Princeton University professor, Lyman Spitzer, invented the stellarator concept in 1951.
  • The Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory at DOE was where much of the development of stargazers in the 1950s took place. It was so hard that the scientist who did it called it “Project Matterhorn.”
  • Stellarators employ external coils to create a twisting magnetic force to control plasma instead of inducing electricity inside it like a tokamak.
  • Stellarator coils are difficult to make because manufacturers must create large-bore wire coils at millimeter accuracy.

Both optimized and conventional stellarators (left) use complex electromagnetic coils to confine plasmas. They create three-dimensional magnetic fields in a torus shape free from induced plasma currents. Credit: Image courtesy of D. Anderson University of Wisconsin at Madison

DOE Office of Science & Stellarators

The Department of Energy Office of Science, Fusion Energy Sciences program (FES) supports stargazer research. Two broad goals of the FES program are to increase our understanding and develop the knowledge necessary for creating a fusion fuel source. As a possible alternative to the tokamak, the Stellarators could be a viable way to generate fusion energy in the future. Research on Stellarators is essential for scientists to understand the foundational theory of plasma better. FES is particularly interested in improving the magnetic field that controls the plasma in stellarators. FES collaborates with the W7X facility in Germany to research technologies for producing fusion energy and performing fusion experiments. FES will develop control systems to ensure stable plasmas in stellarators in the future.

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