Lithium, a path to make fusion energy affordable

A. De Castro, C. Moynihan, S. Stemmley, M. Szott, D. N. Ruzic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this tutorial article, we review the technological, physics, and economic basis for a magnetic fusion device utilizing a flowing liquid lithium divertor (molten metal velocity in the range of cm/s) and operating in a low-recycling plasma regime. When extrapolated to magnetic fusion reactor scale, the observed effects of a liquid lithium boundary on recycling reduction, confinement increase, and anomalous heat transport mitigation may offer a fundamentally distinct and promising alternative route to fusion energy production. In addition, this lithium-driven low recycling regime could accelerate fusion's commercial viability since such a device would be smaller, dramatically decreasing plant and electricity costs if all technological complexities are solved. First, the theoretical basis of the energy confinement and fusion performance as well as the related possibilities of low recycling regimes driven by flowing lithium plasma-facing components are reviewed. Then the paper emphasizes the technological obstacles that need to be overcome for developing the necessary systems for such a flowing liquid lithium solution at reactor scale and details how many of these have been overcome at laboratory and/or proof-of-concept scale. Finally, the current and planned scientific and engineering endeavors being performed at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign regarding this alternative reactor option are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number050901
JournalPhysics of Plasmas
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Condensed Matter Physics


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