Following on last week's announcement from MIT of a practical compact fusion reactor design, Tri Alpha Energy claims to have developed a way to contain plasma in a steady state for 5 ms without it decaying - a time far longer than previous attempts. According to reports, the only limitation on the time the plasma was held steady was the power available to the system.
The key breakthrough here is the claimed ability to control the plasma in a steady state. Reportedly the company uses a " field-reversed configuration " (FRC) configuration approach - rather than external magnets such as used in a tokamuk reactor - to contain the plasma, in which the plasma self-contains itself within its own motion-generated magnetic field.
The FRC approach to fusion reactor design promises simpler and less-expensive systems compared to tokamuks, with the possibility of using less dangerous advanced fuels. However research with such designs has thus far only been able to achieve a plasma lifetime of about 0.3 ms before the plasma decayed or became unstable and collapsed.
To address this, the cigar-shaped Tri Alpha reactor fires high-energy particle beams into the edge of the plasma to help bolster the plasma's outer magnetic field to form a more secure containment. Next year the company is said to be planning to upgrade the reactor with even more powerful particle beams in an attempt to achieve longer FRCs and higher temperatures.
Practical compact fusion reactor proposed by MIT