Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)
Research on magnetic confinement of high-temperature plasmas has the ultimate goal of harnessing nuclear fusion for the production of electricity. Although the tokamak1 is the leading toroidal magnetic-confinement concept, it is not without shortcomings and the fusion community has therefore also pursued alternative concepts such as the stellarator. Unlike axisymmetric tokamaks, stellarators possess a three-dimensional (3D) magnetic field geometry. The availability of this additional dimension opens up an extensive configuration space for computational optimization of both the field geometry itself and the current-carrying coils that produce it. Such an optimization was undertaken in designing Wendelstein 7-X (W7-X), a large helical-axis advanced stellarator (HELIAS), which began operation in 2015 at Greifswald, Germany. A major drawback of 3D magnetic field geometry, however, is that it introduces a strong temperature dependence into the stellarator's non-turbulent 'neoclassical' energy transport. Indeed, such energy losses will become prohibitive in high-temperature reactor plasmas unless a strong reduction of the geometrical factor associated with this transport can be achieved; such a reduction was therefore a principal goal of the design of W7-X. In spite of the modest heating power currently available, W7-X has already been able to achieve high-temperature plasma conditions during its 2017 and 2018 experimental campaigns, producing record values of the fusion triple product for such stellarator plasmas. The triple product of plasma density, ion temperature and energy confinement time is used in fusion research as a figure of merit, as it must attain a certain threshold value before net-energy-producing operation of a reactor becomes possible. Here we demonstrate that such record values provide evidence for reduced neoclassical energy transport in W7-X, as the plasma profiles that produced these results could not have been obtained in stellarators lacking a comparably high level of neoclassical optimization.