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Eleonora Viezzer, physicist: "In a decade, a glass of water will supply energy to a family for 80 years"

2022-05-21T03:53:20.906Z

The recently awarded Princess of Girona Research Award believes the development of nuclear fusion as a safe, inexhaustible and green energy source is near



Eleonora Viezzer, born in Vienna 35 years ago, is part of the international scientific orchestra that seeks to interpret in the next decade one of the most awaited symphonies by humanity: the development of nuclear fusion (the union of two nuclei of light atoms to form another nucleus releasing energy, according to Einstein's famous equation, E=mc2) as a capable, safe, inexhaustible and green energy source.

The daughter of an Italian ice cream maker and a Filipino souvenir shop worker who settled in Austria, she was educated in Innsbruck and in Germany (where she received her doctorate in physics from the Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich and was part of the prestigious Max Planck Institute). ).

Six years ago she moved to the Andalusian capital, where she is her partner, and she joined the Atomic Physics department,

Molecular and Nuclear of the University of Seville founding the Plasma Sciences and Fusion Technologies group together with Professor Manuel García Muñoz.

His work to dominate plasma, the fourth state of matter, has been recognized internationally on numerous occasions.

The latest award, the Princess of Girona Prize for Scientific Research, was awarded this month.

She is convinced that, “in a decade, if the necessary investments are made, the world will have an energy source capable of supplying, with a glass of water, a family of four members for 80 years”.

the Princess of Girona Prize for Scientific Research, has been awarded this month.

She is convinced that, “in a decade, if the necessary investments are made, the world will have an energy source capable of supplying, with a glass of water, a family of four members for 80 years”.

the Princess of Girona Prize for Scientific Research, has been awarded this month.

She is convinced that, “in a decade, if the necessary investments are made, the world will have an energy source capable of supplying, with a glass of water, a family of four members for 80 years”.

Ask.

His work focuses on high-confinement, non-jitter fusion plasma.

What does it consist of?

Response.

On the way to the development of fusion as a source of energy, we have to manage to confine the fusion plasma (fuel of a fusion reactor) to temperatures higher than those of the Sun (200 million degrees) and high pressures.

Under these conditions, the fusion plasmas tend to develop fluctuations that compromise the operation of the reactor itself.

Our task is to control or mitigate these fluctuations, something like taming the plasma.

Q.

Find the solution of the future in the stars?

R.

Exact.

We try to reproduce on Earth the source of energy that powers the stars, nuclear fusion.

The enormous mass of the Sun allows the fusion plasma to be confined to extremely high densities, greatly facilitating fusion.

On Earth, however, one of the most advanced plasma confinement methods is based on magnetic cages;

magnetic fields that keep the fusion plasma levitating in a vacuum and thus minimizing contact with the reactor walls.

At the center of the plasma we have 200 million degrees Celsius, while at the wall it may only be 100 degrees.

For fusion, we use deuterium and tritium, which are heavier isotopes of hydrogen: we can get the first from seawater and tritium from the earth's crust.

If we fuse it, we create a new Alpha particle, which is helium,

and we release an energy of 17.6 mega-electron volts [MeV].

If we translate MeVs into more everyday units, this means that if we fuse an amount of deuterium and tritium similar to what fits in a teaspoon (2.5 grams), for example, we can create a similar amount of energy as would generate a soccer field full of coal (28 tons) in combustion.

For every gram, with nuclear fusion, we can generate up to 10⁷ more energy than with the same amount of fossil fuel.

we can create a similar amount of energy as a football field full of burning coal (28 tons) would generate.

For every gram, with nuclear fusion, we can generate up to 10⁷ more energy than with the same amount of fossil fuel.

we can create a similar amount of energy as a football field full of burning coal (28 tons) would generate.

For every gram, with nuclear fusion, we can generate up to 10⁷ more energy than with the same amount of fossil fuel.

If we fuse an amount of deuterium and tritium similar to what fits in a teaspoon (2.5 grams), for example, we can create an amount of energy similar to what a football field full of coal (28 tons) would generate. burning

Q.

Would it be inexhaustible?

R.

Since we can get deuterium from sea water and tritium from lithium in the earth's crust, there would be resources for thousands of years.

But other sources of lithium or other elements for fusion can be found that don't need tritium.

At the moment, these two elements provide maximum performance.

P.

There are those who maintain that nuclear fusion is a dream, that it is not possible to control the plasma.

R.

Fusion exists, the stars and the Sun show us every day.

The merger works.

The challenge is technology and we also have it.

The Tokamak ITER in France is going to develop the largest fusion experiment in the world.

Right now, the lines of research show that the larger the reactor, the more performance it gives.

But it is another of the challenges: make them smaller, lower costs and thus make it more accessible.

With the right funding, we can see the merger come to fruition in less than 10 years!

We have already seen it with the covid vaccine.

Normally, they take more than 10 years to develop and commercialize, but with the right support and funding, we have managed to do it in one year.

Q.

When will energy generated by nuclear fusion become available?

R.

We are working to do it as soon as possible.

The discovery of high-temperature superconducting materials and their more recent application to fusion have marked a turning point in the development of fusion as a source of energy and, more specifically, of fusion by magnetic confinement.

High-temperature superconductors are called to allow more compact, efficient and accessible fusion reactors.

This is the goal of the SPARC project of MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] and Commonwealth Fusion Systems.

With the right funding, we can see the merger come to fruition in less than 10 years!

We have already seen it with the Covid vaccine.

Vaccines typically take more than 10 years to be developed and commercialized, but with the right support and funding,

We have managed to do it in a year.

We are talking about something similar: if you invest everything you need, you can get it out much faster.

The question should be asked to those who decide the investments.

Q.

And will fusion be the only source of energy?

R.

It could be in the future, but I personally think that a

rich energy

mix will be incorporated in which each energy source has its application.

For example, the high power densities available in fusion reactors probably make it the ideal energy source for cities with high population densities or systems where we need to generate a lot of energy in very small and concentrated spaces.

For other applications, such as, for example, a car, perhaps other sources of energy such as solar, inertial, etc., may be more appropriate.

In short, we need a

clean and environmentally sustainable energy

mix and, there, fusion will play a crucial role in the coming years.

One of the objectives of ITER [Cadarache, France] or SPARC is to generate more energy than is necessary for its operation.

These two projects are called to revolutionize fusion and accelerate the transition from a laboratory to an electricity generation plant

Q.

Because, for now, it's just a lab project.

R.

Well, because, for now, we have not achieved the net production of energy.

That is, we need more energy to operate the fusion reactor than it generates through the fusion reactions that take place inside it.

One of the objectives of the ITER [Cadarache, France] or SPARC project is to generate more energy than is necessary for its operation.

These two projects are called to revolutionize fusion and accelerate the transition from a laboratory to an electricity generation plant.

Q.

Is it safe?

A.

Yes, yes, yes, 100%.

The fusion conditions are extremely delicate and involve very low densities that are only achieved in fusion reactors in ultra-vacuum conditions.

For example, the total mass that forms the fuel of a fusion reactor is no more than several grams distributed in a volume of 800 cubic meters (in the case of ITER).

These extreme operating conditions make an uncontrolled chain reaction impossible.

At the moment in which the vacuum of the reactor is broken, the atmosphere would enter it, ending the fusion processes.

P.

Have you felt discrimination in science?

R.

When I look back, I realize things that shouldn't have happened.

In the winter school where I decided to be a physicist, we were just two girls and we were the only ones who were not asked by the teacher to present the project at the end of the course.

I didn't see it at the time, but now I wonder: why not us?

There have also been colleagues who have told me: 'you have won that only because you are a woman'.

I answer them: 'do you really think that I haven't worked as hard or even harder than you to get here?'

But we need more women in management positions and quotas, because there are still many women who are left behind.

To change the situation, we must focus on the smallest.

I have done what I wanted, but I also had the help of my mother,

Q.

Can you do science in Spain?

A.

I have been at the Max Planck Institute, which is the top of research in Germany, and the change has not been easy, but here I have a very important network, an excellent group that has grown and that has given me access to doors that , perhaps, would not have managed to open in Germany.

That said, we compete with institutions of the prestige of MIT, the Max Planck Institute in Germany or Princeton University among others.

If we want to keep up and see a magnetic confinement fusion reactor connected to the national power grid in the next few years, we need more science-based resources, structures and policies.

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Source: elparis

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