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  5. With UW-Madison engineers' expertise, German fusion experiment achieves major milestone

With UW-Madison engineers' expertise, German fusion experiment achieves major milestone

image of flux surface

 Visualization of field lines at a near-rational iota value. Submitted photo: Thomas Sunn Pedersen, Max-Planck Institute für Plasmaphysik.

In June 2015, one of the world's most innovative fusion experiments marked a major technological achievement that likely will make it a viable candidate for producing energy from fusion.

Housed at the Max-Planck Institute für Plasmaphysik in Germany, the Wendelstein 7-X is a massive experimental stellarator with modular superconducting coils that produce a magnetic field that meets the precise requirements for confining and sustaining a high-temperature fusion plasma. 

Researchers associated with the device announced on June 16, 2015, that not only do the device's superconducting magnetic coils produce the required magnetic field, but the configuration of the plasma's magnetic cage is in line with the researchers' calculations. They anticipate that later in 2015, the Wendelstein 7-X will produce its first plasma.

College of Engineering faculty also have strong ties to the experiment. David Anderson, the Jim and Ann Sorden Professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Oliver Schmitz, an assistant professor of engineering physics, both have contributed to the project. Anderson, who directs the HSX device—a helically symmetrical fusion experiment that has many attributes in common with the Wendelstein—has contributed HSX experimental measurements, compared with computational models, while Schmitz contributed his expertise in experimental and numerical analysis of plasma-edge transport and neutral/impurity modeling in the edge plasma. Students from both faculty members' research groups participate on-site at the Wendelstein 7-X in experimental activities coordinated with U.S. Department of Energy-funded work on the College of Engineering campus.

Fusion researchers aim to develop an environmentally friendly power source via methods similar to the sun. Upon its completion, the Wendelstein 7-X will be the largest stellarator-type fusion device in the world—and, while the device itself is not designed to produce energy, it will be a testbed for demonstrating the feasibility of the concept for generating energy. 

"Its electron beam mapping has confirmed that the precise structure needed for good plasma confinement has been realized through careful design, fabrication and assembly," says Anderson. "This clears the last major hurdle before plasma operations is scheduled to begin soon. Operation will truly be a momentous occasion in fusion research as the first demonstration of the advanced optimized stellarator as a viable candidate for demo and fusion energy."

Renee Meiller