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Sweating Wall Concept: Russian Scientists Develop New Material for Thermonuclear Reactor

Photo by Steinar Engeland on Unsplash

Researchers at IPCE RAS and MEPhI used the chemical gas-phase deposition method to combine the properties of two metals, tungsten and copper, to protect the wall of a fusion reactor. The invention has already received a patent. This was reported to by the press service of the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation.

The development will solve one of the main problems in fusion -protect the wall of the fusion reactor from the effects of a plasma heated to millions of degrees inside it.

Although the plasma is confined and compressed by a magnetic field, its fluxes can still come into contact with the reactor wall. This leads not only to heating of the wall, but also to atomization of the material of which the reactor wall is made, i.e. to its splitting into atoms, which then enter as an impurity into the plasma. As a result of the sputtering process, the plasma cools considerably, which can interfere with fusion.

To avoid this, the concept of the so-called sweating wall was developed earlier: the inner surface of the reactor is covered by a network of channels, from which liquid lithium flows out.

Lithium is a light element, so lithium nuclei cool the plasma less and can even participate in fusion reactions. In this approach, the liquid lithium layer takes over some of the protective functions. Therefore, the material for the “sweating wall” must be refractory and thermally conductive, and must not interact chemically with liquid lithium and at the same time be well wetted by it.

The most refractory metal is tungsten, but its thermal conductivity is not sufficient for effective wall cooling. Copper has a very high thermal conductivity, but it cannot be used for reactor walls because it is fusible – the metal will simply atomize when interacting with the plasma and get inside the reactor, which will worsen the quality of the plasma.

However, scientists have figured out how to combine the properties of both metals in one design.

“The solution is to apply a 30 µm-thick tungsten layer to the copper substrate. This layer will take the brunt of the attack – both the plasma and the chemically active lithium,” Vladimir Dushik, PhD in chemistry and head of the laboratory for heterogeneous synthesis of refractory compounds at IPCE RAS, explained ;

The tungsten coating created by this method has no pores, which is an important advantage – it eliminates the risk of interaction between the copper substrate and the aggressive environment.

“The creation of a thin tungsten coating on a copper substrate takes into account all the possibilities and advantages of the chemical vapor deposition method, and we are very pleased with the result,” summarized Vladimir Dushik.

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