US3361634A - Plasma method and apparatus for generating energy - Google Patents

Plasma method and apparatus for generating energy Download PDF

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US3361634A
US3361634A US535612A US53561266A US3361634A US 3361634 A US3361634 A US 3361634A US 535612 A US535612 A US 535612A US 53561266 A US53561266 A US 53561266A US 3361634 A US3361634 A US 3361634A
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plasma
electron
electrons
electron beam
energy
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US535612A
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Louis D Smullin
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Merck Sante SAS
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LIPHA SAS
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    • HELECTRICITY
    • H05ELECTRIC TECHNIQUES NOT OTHERWISE PROVIDED FOR
    • H05HPLASMA TECHNIQUE; PRODUCTION OF ACCELERATED ELECTRICALLY-CHARGED PARTICLES OR OF NEUTRONS; PRODUCTION OR ACCELERATION OF NEUTRAL MOLECULAR OR ATOMIC BEAMS
    • H05H1/00Generating plasma; Handling plasma
    • H05H1/02Arrangements for confining plasma by electric or magnetic fields; Arrangements for heating plasma
    • H05H1/22Arrangements for confining plasma by electric or magnetic fields; Arrangements for heating plasma for injection heating

Description

United States Patent 3,361,634 PLASMA METHOD AND APPARATUS FOR GENERATING ENERGY Louis D. Smullin, Watertown, Mass., assignor to LIPHA, Lyonnaise Industrielle Pharmaceutique, a corporation of France Continuation of application Ser. No. 238,834, Nov. 16, 1962. This application Mar. 18, 1966, Ser. No. 535,612
20 Claims. (Cl. 1763) This application is a continuation of application Ser. No. 238,834, filed Nov. 16, 1962, now abandoned.
The present invention relates to methods of and apparatus for generating energy, and, more particularly, to the generation of energy with the aid of gaseous plasma.
Numerous proposals have been offered in recent years for the generation of energy in gaseous-plasma systems and, in particular, in thermonuclear fusion systems wherein the combination of light elements at the low end of the periodic table, such as hydrogen, deuterium and tritium, is effected to form heavier and more tightly bound nuclei as of helium, while releasing large quantities of energy in so doing. A summary of these proposals, together with the limitations thereof in terms of the development of stability in the confining of the high-temperature plasma to allow substantial fusion and the subsequent harnessing and conversion of the released energy for power purposes, is set forth, for example, in Project SherwoodThe U.S. Program in Controlled Fusion, by A. S. Bishop, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1958.
An object of the present invention, accordingly, is to provide a new and improved method of and apparatus for generating energy in gaseous-plasma systems that shall provide improved stability, control and energy-harnessing results.
A further object is to provide a novel thermo-nuclearfusion energy-generating apparatus.
Other and further objects will be explained hereinafter and will be more particularly pointed out in the appended claims. In summary, however, the invention contemplates apparatus for producing energy having, in combination, a container, means for generating gaseous plasma within the container, means for confining the plasma as a body floating within a predetermined spatial region of the container displaced from the walls thereof, including electron voltage and current controlling means for injecting an electron beam into the said spatial region and the floating plasma therein, the last-named means being adjusted not only to provide a beam voltage of the order of at least hundreds of thousands of volts to produce sufficient energy to excite the ions of the plasma to a high temperature corresponding to thousands of electron volts but also to provide an electron beam current of value such that the ratio of the number of electrons in the beam to the number of electrons in the plasma is sufliciently large to cause an avalanche of sustained oscillations between the plasma and the electrons, and means for extracting energy from the plasma at a region displaced from the said spatial region. Preferred constructional details and process steps are hereinafter set forth.
The invention will now be described in connection with the accompanying drawing, FIG. 1 of which is a schematic longitudinal section of an embodiment of the invention; and
FIG. 2 is a similar view of a preferred form.
Basically, as before explained, the invention contemplates a novel kind of coupling and interaction between an electron beam and a plasma. The beam of electrons injected into the plasma will, by one of several modes of interaction with the plasma, cause oscillations to be excited. These oscillations are usually in the neighbor- 3,361,634 Patented Jan. 2, 1968 hood of some characteristic frequency such as the electron plasma frequency, the electron or ion cyclotron frequencies, or the ion plasma frequency. Alternating electromagnetic fields are generated, and the ions and/or electrons are given a corresponding oscillatory or gyrating motion at the same frequencies. The oscillatory kinetic energy imparted to the ions or electrons is derived from the DC. kinetic energy of the injected electron beam. If the oscillation is strong enough, the kinetic oscillation energy may be hundreds or thousands of volts or more. As time goes on, this coherent or organized motion is randomized by the occasional collisions between particles. In the applicants experiments, for example, random electron energies of thousands of volts have been produced.
The object, of course, is to heat the ions of the plasma. This might be done in either of two ways: first, heat the electrons and then allow the ions to be heated by collisions; or secondly, to excite the ions into oscillation directly. Oscillation frequencies of ions are relatively low, the order of megacycles/second or less. In order to transform the beam electrons and DC. kinetic energy into ion oscillations, the frequency of collision of the beam electrons must be small compared with the ion oscillation frequency. At typical operating pressures of 10* to 10- mm. Hg of hydrogen or deuterium, for example, and with beam voltages of, for example, about 100,000 to 250,000 volts, this condition is automatically satisfied.
The coupling between the electron beam and the plasma, and thus the rate of power transfer into oscillation energy, is proportional to the ratio of beam-electrondensity to the plasma electron density; and to the ratio of DC. beam voltage to plasma temperature, expressed in electron volts. Thus, the object is to inject a very dense, high-voltage beam into the plasma.
The system of FIG. 1 is adapted for utilizing the injected electron beam either to transfer power to a plasma that has been ionized and elevated to a high temperature by auxiliary means (which is not useful for very high power systems where ionizing electrodes and the like may vaporize), or to employ the electron beam itself first to heat the plasma and then to transfer power thereto to produce a novel runaway avalanche of sustained oscillations between the ions of the plasma and the electrons.
Considering the first possibility, a container or reactor 1 of preferably nuclear-and-atomic-radiation impermeable material, that is, however, magnetic-field permeable, as of stainless steel or the like, is evacuated at a predetermined pressure through connection to a vacuum system, schematically shown at 3. Into the container 1, a gaseous medium, as of hydrogen, deuterium, tritium and the like, or mixtures thereof, is fed through a valve V from a supply source 5. The gaseous medium is ionized by auxiliary means into a plasma state in the region I, labelled Plasma, that, in the particular embodiment shown, extends between a pair of annular anode electrodes A, A connected to the positive terminal of a high-voltage power supply 7 of, for example, the continuous or pulsed variety. The negative terminal of the power supply 7 is connected, upon closure of switch S, to a pair of cathodes C and C, respectively cooperative with the anodes A and A, and the latter cathode C of which is apertured at 9 for a reason later made apparent. The high voltage applied between the anodes A and A and the corresponding cathodes C and C' may be produced by discharges from a bank of periodically charged capacitors, schematically represented at 11, and which may assume the form described, for example, at pages 144-5 of the said Bishop book, or the so-called P.I.G. (Penning Ionization Gauge) construction described in Character- 3 istics of Electric Discharge in Magnetic Fields, chapter 11, A. Guthrie and R. K. Wakerling, McGraw-Hill Book Co., New York, 1949. In any event, the voltage applied between the anodes A, A and their respective cathodes C, C is sufficient to produce a high-temperature ionized plasma at I.
In order to prevent loss of energy in striking the walls of the container 1, the plasma is confined to the spatial region I as a floating body within the container 1, as by, for example, a magnetic field of the mirror type, described on pages 523 of the said Bishop book; being illustrated as produced by external magnetic-field producing coils 13, generating greater field strength at the larger end turns 13' thereof.
In accordance with one form of the present invention, large amounts of energy are transferred to the ions in the plasma by means of an appropriate electron beam. If thermonuclear fusion is desired, the plasma must be held at temperatures of the order of millions of degrees long enough to permit a substantial portion of the gaseous nuclei to undergo fusion.
\Vhile electron beams have previously been interacted with gaseous media, as in traveling-wave amplifiers, klystrons and the like, neither a confined fusible-gas plasma nor an electron-beam voltage and current density of the order of magnitude required for the phenomenon underlying the present invention have been involved. To the contrary, the only effect of coupling between an electron beam and the ions in such systems has been a type of ion oscillation appearing as a modulation side-band that, indeed, has been characterized as an undesirable form of distortion that is to be minimized. In accordance with the present invention, on the other hand, the electronbcam induced ion oscillations previously described are maximized and trapped to generate ion energies that are the equivalent of many millions of degrees of temperature. For an electron beam of at least one or a substantial fraction of one or more hundreds of thousands of volts (hereinafter generally termed the order of at least hundreds of thousands of volts) and an appropriate electron-beam current density, for example, ion energies of -20 kilovolts and more may be produced; and with an axial magnetic field of tens of thousands of gauss, confinement of the high-velocity ions to small radii results in adequate trapping in the beam. Electron-beam power of from at least a substantial fraction of a megawatt to many megawatts, hereinafter generically embraced by the phrase substantially megawatts, are employed.
Specifically, in the embodiment shown in FIG. 1, a high-power electron beam is produced in a hot-cathode electron gun 2 that is shown magnetically shielded from the plasma spatial region I by a magnetically shielding housing 23, apertured at 15 to permit the projection of the electron beam through the aperture 9 in the cathode C and into the plasma 1. The electrodes of the gun 2 (cathode 2', forming anode 2". etc.) are shown connected to an electron-beam voltage supply 17 that, in accordance with the invention, is adjustable to produce the desired electron-beam voltage and current necessary for the phenomenon underlying the invention.
This high-power beam is illustrated in FIG. 1 as generated in a lower-pressure vacuum than the degree of vacuum within the container 1, as by the differential evacuating system 3'. The shield 23, moreover, reduces the field at the electron-gun cathode 2 to a value much less than that at the region 15 of beam emergence, in order to provide a dense electron beam that is convergent, so as to permit focusing of beam currents of the order of up to hundreds of amperes per square centimeter, with cathode current densities held below about ten amperes per square centimeter, substantially upon the axis of the plasma at the region I. The field at the electron gun may have to be reduced by a bucking coil 19, should the iron of the shield 23 tend to saturate.
In the case of the mirrow-type plasma-confining field, before discussed, the windings 13, as of copper, or, if
A desired, super-conducting conductors maintained in a liquid helium or other refrigerant, may generate a field of the order of ten thousand gauss, and greater, to provide effective floating-body confinement and trapping of the plasma, with a low intermediate field-density and high end field-density.
So-called electron magnetron-injection guns, as shown in FIG. 2, may also be employed to produce a hollow electron beam within strong mirror-type fields; or auxiliary gas-discharge systems, not shown, may serve as the electron beam source. In all cases, however, as shown in FIGS. 1 and 2, the electron-beam gun is located in a region of intense magnetic field where it is relatively isolated from the main plasma region 1.
Other types of confining systems may also be employed such as, for example, the capacitive-discharge-produced Scylla-type transient magnetic field described, for example, on page 147 of the said Bishop book. In the case of such a transient field, the electron gun 2 would project or inject electrons during the first half-wave of half-cycle of the discharge.
The applicants experiments have demonstrated that, as before mentioned, auxiliary plasma ionizing apparatus, such as A, A, C, C of FIG. 1, is not needed nor, indeed, feasible with extremely high-power devices; but that an appropriate hot electron beam may be used both to bring the ions up to high temperature and to exchange power therewith to set ott an avalanche that results in novel sustained plasma-electron oscillations.
With the switch S of FIG. 1 opened (and, indeed, elements A, A, C, C, etc. removed, as in FIG. 2), if one adjusts the electron-beam voltage at 17 to the order of at least hundreds of thousands of volts, sufiicient energy can be produced to excite the ions of the plasma directly from the electron beam to a high temperature corresponding to many thousands of electron volts. The electron-beam current must also be adjusted at 17 and by gun aperture size, etc., in weil-known manner, to a rather critical degree; namely, the ratio of the electron density in the beam to the density of electrons in the plasma must be sufficiently high that an avalanche effect is produced resulting in sustained oscillations between the plasma and the electrons. This avalanche and novel strong oscillation effect is readily detected, but has apparently previously escaped notice because, in prior art systems, all of the necessary and sufficient conditions above described were not fulfilled. A drop in perveance [electron beam current/(electron beam voltage) from the order of at least 10- by a factor of one-half, for example, has been found to be sufficient for the phenomenon of the present invention not to take place in experimental structures of the type shown in FIG. 1. If the peak of the energy of oscillations is less than the ionization potential of the gas, only elastic collisions and scatter will occur, but no ionization of the above character. To get a runaway or avalanche discharge the oscillation energy must be made considerably greater than the ionization potential of the gas. With the electron beam itself generating a very highly ionized plasma by first building up a weak plasma through ordinary collisions with the neutral gas and then interacting with the plasma to produce oscillations, the plasma electrons acquire enough energy to take part in the ionization process, and the density grows exponentially with time. Thus, in accordance with the discoveries underlying the invention, the entire process of producing and heating the plasma can be performed by the proper electron beam alone.
For thermonuclear purposes, adjustment of the parameters of the electron gun controls 17 to provide an electron-beam voltage of the order of half a million volts and an electron-beam current of the order of 300-500 amperes may, for example, be effected.
Whether the present invention is used for thermonuclear fusion heat generation or energy generation of lesser magnitude, it is necessary to harness and couple out the generated heat energy. This may be done by employing the heat energy released and radiated from the electronbeam-interacted plasma at the walls of the container 1, which are displaced from the confined floating plasma spatial region 1. Thus, preferably externally disposed coolant pipes 21 may surround the walls of the container opposite the region I for there absorbing and transferring the energy radiated from the plasma. If desired, furthermore, moderator blankets, not shown, may surround the container to prevent neutron escape.
The energy generation by the process herein described may also be used for other purposes, as for propulsion. In such event, the energy of the electron-beam-interacted plasma may, for example, be permitted to be expelled, as at 3".
Further modifications will also occur to those skilled in the art and all such are considered to fall Within the scope and spirit of the invention as defined in the following claims.
What is claimed is:
1. A method of the character described that comprises generating a gaseous plasma including electrons, magnetically confining the plasma as a floating body within a predetermined spatial region, injecting a dense high-voltage electron beam into the said spatial region and thus into the plasma, adjusting the electron beam voltage to the order of at least hundreds of thousands of volts, adjusting the current density of the electron-beam such that the ratio of the number of electrons in the beam to the number of electrons in the plasma is sufiiciently large, namely to provide a ratio of electron beam current to the three-halfs power of the electron beam voltage of the order of at least to cause an avalanche of sustained oscillations between the plasma and the electrons, with the electron-beam collision frequency small compared with the electron-beam collision frequency small compared with the frequency of the said oscillations, and extracting energy of the plasma at a region displaced from the said spatial region.
2. A method as claimed in claim 1 and in which the gaseous plasma is ionized and heated separately from the said injecting of the electron beam.
3. A method as claimed in claim 1 and in which the gas is a fusible gas selected from the group of gases consisting of hydrogen, deuterium and tritium and in which the same is substantially fully ionized.
4. A method as claimed in claim 1 and in which the said spatial region, apart from the electron beam and gaseous plasma, is evacuated.
5. A method as claimed in claim 1 and in which the injected electron beam is generated within a further region evacuated to a different degree of vacuum than the said spatial region.
6. A method as claimed in claim 1 and in which the injected electron beam is generated within a further region magnetically shielded from the said spatial region.
7. A method as claimed in claim 1 and in which the injected beam is generated in a further region substantially isolated from the said plasma region.
8. A thermonuclear method as claimed in claim 1 and in which 'the said gas is a fusible gas, the said high voltage of the electron beam is adjusted to the order of at least about 500,000 volts, and the said beam current is adjusted to the order of at least from about 300 to about 500 amperes.
9. A method as claimed in claim 1 and in which the energy extracting is effected by absorbing heat energy from the ionized plasma over a region surrounding the said spatial region.
10. A method as claimed in claim 1 and in which the energy extracting is effected by expelling energy of the ionized plasma.
11. A method as claimed in claim 1 and in which the magnetic confining is effected by relatively intense magnetic fields at the ends of the plasma and a relatively weaker field intermediate the same.
12. A method as claimed in claim 11 and in which the injected electron beam is generated at a further region disposed in one of the said intense end magnetic fields.
13. Apparatus for producing energy having, in combination, a container, means for generating gaseous plasma within the container, magnetic-field-producing means for confining the plasma as a body floating Within a predetermined spatial region of the container displaced from the walls thereof, means for generating and injecting a dense high-voltage electron beam into the said spatial region and the floating plasma therein, the last-named means producing an electron-beam voltage of the order of at least hundreds of thousands of volts and an electronbeam of current density such that the ratio of the number of electrons in the beam to the number of electrons in the plasma is sufficiently large, namely to provide a ratio of electron beam current to the three-halts power of the electron beam voltage of the order of at least l0* to cause an avalanche of sustained oscillations between the plasma and the electrons, and means for extracting energy from the plasma at a region displaced from the said spatial region.
14. Apparatus as claimed in claim 13, and in which the magnetic-field is of the order of ten thousand gauss and greater, and the said last-named means produces an electron-beam power of at least the order of substantially megawatts.
15. Apparatus as claimed in claim 13 and in which the container and the electron-beam generating means are evacuated to different degrees.
16. Apparatus as claimed in claim 13 and in which there is provided means for isolating the electron-beam generating means from the said spatial region.
17. Apparatus as claimed in claim 13, and in which the container is metal-walled, the means for generating the electron beam is provided with shield means for shielding the generating means from the said spatial region, and further comprising means for producing a subsidiary field for reducing the field at the electron-beam generating means to prevent saturation of the shielding means, the electron-beam collision frequency being small compared with the frequency of the said oscillations.
18. Apparatus as claimed in claim 16 and in which the electron beam produces both ionization and heating of the plasma and transfer of power thereto for the said sustained oscillations, with the electron-beam collision frequency small compared with the frequency of the said oscillations.
19. Apparatus as claimed in claim 16 and in which the extracting means comprises means for ejecting energy from the said plasma.
20. Apparatus as claimed in claim 17 and in which the gaseous plasma comprises a fusible gas.
No references cited.
REUBEN EPSTEIN, Primary Examiner.

Claims (1)

1. A METHOD OF THE CHARACTER DESCRIBED THAT COMPRISES GENERATING A GASEOUS PLASMA INCLUDING ELECTRONS, MAGNETICALLY CONFINING THE PLASMA AS A FLOATING BODY WITHIN A PREDETERMINED SPATIAL REGION, INJECTING A DENSE HIGH-VOLTAGE ELECTRON BEAM INTO THE SAID SPATIAL REGION AND THUS INTO THE PLASMA, ADJUSTING THE ELECTRON BEAM VOLTAGE TO THE ORDER OF AT LEAST HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF VOLTS, ADJUSTING THE CURRENT DENSITY OF THE ELECTRON-BEAM SUCH THAT THE RATIO OF THE NUMBER OF ELECTRONS IN THE BEAM TO THE NUMBER OF ELECTRONS IN THE PLASMA IS SUFFICIENTLY LARGE, NAMELY TO PROVIDE A RATIO OF ELECTRON BEAM CURRENT TO THE THREE-HALFS POWER OF THE ELECTRON BEAM VOLTAGE OF THE ORDER OF AT LEAST 10**-6, TO CAUSE AN AVALANCHE OF SUSTAINED OSCILLATIONS BETWEEN THE PLASMA AND THE ELECTRONS, WITH THE ELECTRON-BEAM COLLISION FREQUENCY SMALL COMPARED WITH THE ELECTRON-BEAM COLLISION FREQUENCY SMALL COMPARED WITH THE FREQUENCY OF THE SAID OSCILLATIONS, AND EXTRACTING ENERGY OF THE PLASMA AT A REGION DISPLACED FROM THE SAID SPATIAL REGION.
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Cited By (7)

* Cited by examiner, † Cited by third party
Publication number Priority date Publication date Assignee Title
US3755073A (en) * 1971-06-21 1973-08-28 Atomic Energy Commission Hybrid laser plasma target - neutral beam injection fusion system
WO2006025063A2 (en) * 2004-09-02 2006-03-09 Netanya Plasmatec Ltd. Apparatus and method for carrying out a controlled high energy plasma reaction
US9928927B2 (en) 2013-04-03 2018-03-27 Lockheed Martin Corporation Heating plasma for fusion power using magnetic field oscillation
US9934876B2 (en) 2013-04-03 2018-04-03 Lockheed Martin Corporation Magnetic field plasma confinement for compact fusion power
US9959941B2 (en) 2013-04-03 2018-05-01 Lockheed Martin Corporation System for supporting structures immersed in plasma
US9959942B2 (en) * 2013-04-03 2018-05-01 Lockheed Martin Corporation Encapsulating magnetic fields for plasma confinement
US10049773B2 (en) 2013-04-03 2018-08-14 Lockheed Martin Corporation Heating plasma for fusion power using neutral beam injection

Non-Patent Citations (1)

* Cited by examiner, † Cited by third party
Title
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Cited By (10)

* Cited by examiner, † Cited by third party
Publication number Priority date Publication date Assignee Title
US3755073A (en) * 1971-06-21 1973-08-28 Atomic Energy Commission Hybrid laser plasma target - neutral beam injection fusion system
WO2006025063A2 (en) * 2004-09-02 2006-03-09 Netanya Plasmatec Ltd. Apparatus and method for carrying out a controlled high energy plasma reaction
WO2006025063A3 (en) * 2004-09-02 2006-09-21 Netanya Plasmatec Ltd Apparatus and method for carrying out a controlled high energy plasma reaction
US9928927B2 (en) 2013-04-03 2018-03-27 Lockheed Martin Corporation Heating plasma for fusion power using magnetic field oscillation
US9928926B2 (en) 2013-04-03 2018-03-27 Lockheed Martin Corporation Active cooling of structures immersed in plasma
US9934876B2 (en) 2013-04-03 2018-04-03 Lockheed Martin Corporation Magnetic field plasma confinement for compact fusion power
US9947420B2 (en) 2013-04-03 2018-04-17 Lockheed Martin Corporation Magnetic field plasma confinement for compact fusion power
US9959941B2 (en) 2013-04-03 2018-05-01 Lockheed Martin Corporation System for supporting structures immersed in plasma
US9959942B2 (en) * 2013-04-03 2018-05-01 Lockheed Martin Corporation Encapsulating magnetic fields for plasma confinement
US10049773B2 (en) 2013-04-03 2018-08-14 Lockheed Martin Corporation Heating plasma for fusion power using neutral beam injection

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