Embark on a fascinating journey with Thomas Klinger as he navigates the complex realm of nuclear fusion research. Unveil the potential of the revolutionary Wendelstein 7-X stellarator, poised to transform the energy landscape by harnessing the power of fusion. Explore the intricate physics, daunting challenges, and profound global impact of this ambitious endeavour.
Which wall does your research break?
Nuclear Fusion is one of the biggest challenges in science in this day and age. It is the only primary energy source not yet available. The fusion fuel — heavy hydrogen and lithium — is abundant and available; there is no highly radioactive waste, there are no severe accidents possible, and fusion is free of CO2 emissions. The new stellarator Wendelstein 7-X is one important step to make fusion happen. The superconducting, optimized magnets and the whole range of technologies of the machine (16m diameter and 1000 t weight) are extremely challenging. Furthermore, the physics of the hot plasma — the state of matter where fusion becomes possible — is highly dynamic, mostly non-linear and often full of surprises. Fusion research is multi-disciplinary by nature, spanning the physics of plasmas and fluids, atomic physics, nuclear physics and material sciences. The decades of research, however, have improved the understanding of fusion plasma a lot and it looks more feasible than ever to create and control it. The goal of the Wendelstein 7-X device is to create for the first time a fusion-relevant plasma for 30 minutes without interruption.
What inspired or motivated you to work on your current research or project?
During my studies, I became interested in plasma physics. It is a multi-disciplinary field where electromagnetism, physics of fluids, atomic physics and non-linear physics beautifully combine. Fusion research is — together with plasma technology — the greatest application of plasma physics. Fusion aims to establish an energy source that is not yet in use by mankind, and it has the potential to make a big contribution to the world’s energy and climate change quest. Fusion research is an international endeavor and is very much based on international collaboration. In a certain sense, the whole world is working together on this extremely challenging subject, where physics meets engineering and theory meets observation.
In what ways does society benefit from your research?
Fusion power would be a new primary energy source in the supply spectrum of the world. A fusion power station would provide about 1 GW of heat, which can be converted into electricity, drive chemical process plants, or heat private homes in big cities. For such a plant, per day only 1 kg of fusion fuel is needed. The energy would be available for weeks and months without any interruption. Fusion energy has the potential to change the world, which makes it worth working on fusion research.
Looking ahead, what are your hopes or aspirations for the future based on your research or project?
If we can overcome the remaining physics and technological challenges, fusion power may become available during the second half of the century. This is certainly not “too late”, since the transformation of the energy supply of the world is a century project. With increasing wealth, especially in the not yet fully developed counties and regions, there will be a massive increase in energy demand. Last but not least, even after a successful reduction of CO2 emissions, the greenhouse gases in our atmosphere must be removed afterward, which again requires huge amounts of CO2-free process energy on top. So we need more options.