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Publication# The role of the sheath in magnetized plasma turbulence and flows

Résumé

Controlled nuclear fusion could provide our society with a clean, safe, and virtually inexhaustible source of electric power production. The tokamak has proven to be capable of producing large amounts of fusion reactions by confining magnetically the fusion fuel at sufficiently high density and temperature, thus in the plasma state. Because of turbulence, however, high temperature plasma reaches the outermost region of the tokamak, the Scrape-Off Layer (SOL), which features open magnetic field lines that channel particles and heat into a dedicated region of the vacuum vessel. The plasma dynamics in the SOL is crucial in determining the performance of tokamak devices, and constitutes one of the greatest uncertainties in the success of the fusion program. In the last few years, the development of numerical codes based on reduced fluid models has provided a tool to study turbulence in open field line configurations. In particular, the GBS (Global Braginskii Solver) code has been developed at CRPP and is used to perform global, three-dimensional, full-n, flux-driven simulations of plasma turbulence in open field lines. Reaching predictive capabilities is an outstanding challenge that involves a proper treatment of the plasma-wall interactions at the end of the field lines, to well describe the particle and energy losses. This involves the study of plasma sheaths, namely the layers forming at the interface between plasmas and solid surfaces, where the drift and quasineutrality approximations break down. This is an investigation of general interest, as sheaths are present in all laboratory plasmas. This thesis presents progress in the understanding of plasma sheaths and their coupling with the turbulence in the main plasma. A kinetic code is developed to study the magnetized plasma-wall transition region and derive a complete set of analytical boundary conditions that supply the sheath physics to fluid codes. These boundary conditions are implemented in the GBS code and simulations of SOL turbulence are carried out to investigate the importance of the sheath in determining the equilibrium electric fields, intrinsic toroidal rotation, and SOL width, in different limited configurations. For each study carried out in this thesis, simple analytical models are developed to interpret the simulation results and reveal the fundamental mechanisms underlying the system dynamics. The electrostatic potential appears to be determined by a combined effect of sheath physics and electron adiabaticity. Intrinsic flows are driven by the sheath, while turbulence provides the mechanism for radial momentum transport. The position of the limiter can modify the turbulence properties in the SOL, thus playing an important role in setting the SOL width.

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The goal of thermonuclear fusion research is to provide power plants, that will be able to produce one gigawatt of electricity. Among the different ways to achieve fusion, the tokamak, based on magnetic confinement, is the most promising one. A gas is heated up to hundreds of millions of degrees and becomes a plasma, which is maintained – or confined – in a toroidal vessel by helical magnetic field lines. Then, deuterium and tritium are injected and fuse to create an α particle and an energetic neutron. In order to have a favorable power balance, the power produced by fusion reactions must exceed the power needed to heat the plasma and the power losses. This can be cast in a very simple expression which stipulates that the product of the density, the temperature and the energy confinement time must exceed some given value. Unfortunately, present-days tokamaks are not able to reach this condition, mostly due to plasma turbulence. The latter phenomenon enhances the heat losses and degrades the energy confinement time, which cannot be predicted by analytical theories such as the so-called neoclassical theory in which the heat losses are caused by Coulomb collisions. Therefore, numerical simulations are being developed to model plasma turbulence, mainly caused by the Ion and Electron Temperature-Gradient and the Trapped-Electron-Mode instabilities. The plasma is described by a distribution function which evolves according to the Vlasov equation. The electromagnetic fields created by the particles are self-consistently obtained through Maxwell's equations. The resulting Vlasov-Maxwell system is greatly simplified by using the gyrokinetic theory, which consists, through an appropriate ordering, of eliminating the fast gyromotion (compared to the typical frequency of instabilities). Nevertheless, it is still extremely difficult to solve this system numerically due to the large range of time and spatial scales to be resolved. In this thesis, the Vlasov-Maxwell system is solved in the electrostatic and collisionless limit with the Particle-In-Cell (PIC) ORB5 code in global tokamak geometry. This Monte-Carlo approach suffers from statistical noise which unavoidably degrades the quality of the simulation. Consequently, the first part of this work has been devoted to the optimization of the code with a view to reduce the numerical noise. The code has been rewritten in a new coordinate system which takes advantage of the anisotropy of turbulence, which is mostly aligned with the magnetic field lines. The overall result of the optimization is that for a given accuracy, the CPU time has been decreased by a factor two thousand, the total memory has been decreased by a factor ten and the numerical noise has been reduced by a factor two hundred. In addition, the scaling of the code with respect to plasma size is presently optimal, suggesting that ORB5 could compute heat transport for future fusion devices such as ITER. The second part of this thesis presents the validation of the code with numerical convergence tests, linear (including dispersion relations) and nonlinear benchmarks. Furthermore, the code has been applied to important issues in gyrokinetic theory. It is shown for the first time that a 5D global delta-f PIC code can achieve a thermodynamic steady state on the condition that some dissipation is present. This is a fundamental result as the main criticism against delta-f PIC codes is their inability to deal with long time simulations. Next, the role of the parallel nonlinearity is studied and it is demonstrated in this work that this term has no real influence on turbulence, provided the numerical noise is sufficiently low. This result should put an end to the controversy that recently occurred, in which gyrokinetic simulations using different numerical approaches yielded contradictory results. Finally, thanks to the optimization of the code, the gyrokinetic model has been extended to include the kinetic response of trapped-electrons, in place to the usual adiabatic (Boltzmann) approximation. For the first time, global TEM nonlinear simulations are presented, and the role of the zonal flow on heat transport is analyzed. This study will help in acquiring some knowledge on the less-known TEM turbulence (as compared to ITG). In conclusion, this thesis is one of the main steps of the development of ORB5, which is now a state-of-the-art gyrokinetic code for collisionless ITG and TEM turbulence, and has brought several contributions to the understanding of these phenomena.

This thesis is concerned with the physics of suprathermal electrons in thermonuclear, magnetically confined plasmas. Under a variety of conditions, in laboratory as well as space plasmas, the electron velocity distribution function is not in thermodynamic equilibrium owing to internal or external drives. Accordingly, the distribution function departs from the equilibrium Maxwellian, and in particular generally develops a high-energy tail. In tokamak plasmas, this occurs especially as a result of injection of high-power electromagnetic waves, used for heating and current drive, as well as a result of internal magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) instabilities. The physics of these phenomena is intimately tied to the properties and dynamics of this suprathermal electron population. This motivates the development of instrumental apparatus to measure its properties as well as of numerical codes to simulate their dynamics. Both aspects are reflected in this thesis work, which features advanced instrumental development and experimental measurements as well as numerical modeling. The instrumental development consisted of the complete design of a spectroscopic and tomographic system of four multi-detector hard X-ray (HXR) cameras for the TCV tokamak. The goal is to measure bremsstrahlung emission from suprathermal electrons with energies in the 10-300 keV range, with the ultimate aim of providing the first full tomographic reconstruction at these energies in a noncircular plasma. In particular, suprathermal electrons are generated in TCV by a high-power electron cyclotron heating (ECH) system and are also observed in the presence of MHD events, such as sawtooth oscillations and disruptive instabilities. This diagnostic employs state-of-the-art solid-state detectors and is optimized for the tight space requirements of the TCV ports. It features a novel collimator concept that combines compactness and flexibility as well as full digital acquisition of the photon pulses, greatly enhancing its potential for full spectral analysis in high-fluency scenarios. Additional flexibility is afforded by the possibility to rotate the orientation of two of the cameras, permitting the crucial comparison of radiation emitted perpendicular and parallel to the primary magnetic field. The design of the HXR system was optimized through an extensive iterative simulation process with the aid of tomographic reconstruction codes as well as quasilinear Fokker-Planck modeling of ECH-driven TCV plasmas. In parallel, the selection of the detectors for this system was performed through comprehensive laboratory testing of several candidate detectors available on the market. While the design was completed in the course of the thesis work, commissioning of the system has only commenced recently with one of the four cameras installed on TCV. The first preliminary results, discussed in the last part of this thesis, include basic parameter scans of ECH wave-plasma interaction and the investigation of the dynamic response of suprathermal electrons to modulated ECH. In addition, the cameras possess the novel ability to discriminate against very high-energy γ-ray radiation that cannot be collimated and must thus be excluded from spatial distribution analysis. A basic study of the conditions for γ-ray suppression was conducted in preparation for future experiments. The Fokker-Planck modeling tool used in this diagnostic development was acquired through a collaboration with CEA-Cadarache, initially with the primary motivation of studying the simultaneous plasma heating by 2nd and 3rd harmonic electron cyclotron waves that is uniquely possible on TCV. This motivated a dedicated study, both theoretical and experimental, of one particular instance of this combined heating, which became a second primary subject of this thesis work. The particular scenario studied here is one in which a single ECH frequency is resonant at both harmonics in the same plasma. The primary objective of this study was to determine whether a synergy effect existed, permitting an enhancement of the intrinsically weak 3rd harmonic absorption by the suprathermal electrons generated at the 2nd harmonic resonance. An associated question was whether this effect, if it existed, was experimentally measurable or was in fact observed in TCV. The simulations performed in the course of this study indeed predict the existence of such a synergy, although the answer to the second question was ultimately negative, at least within the current technical limitations. This study has proven nevertheless highly valuable in providing new insight into the complex velocity-space dynamics that govern ECH wave-particle interaction and suprathermal electron dynamics.

The development of controlled thermonuclear fusion, a quasi-unlimited energy source suitable for large scale electricity production, is one of the main goals of plasma physics research. Among the directions explored to date, the use of toroidal devices called tokamaks to create and confine hot plasmas using strong magnetic fields is particularly promising. The energy used to heat the plasma must remain well confined in order to achieve plasma temperatures higher than one hundred millon degrees for a sufficiently long period to obtain numerous fusion reactions. In the frame of efficient electricity production, maximising the energy confinement is also essential to achieve the required temperature with the lowest heating power. In tokamak plasmas, energy losses are mainly due to radiation and radial energy transport from the plasma core to the edge. A significant fraction of plasma physics research is therefore dedicated to the study of radial transport in tokamaks and the exploration of new operation regimes characterised by a low transport level. The development and optimisation of diagnostics used to observe plasmas is also part of this work. This thesis work, performed on the Tokamak à Configuration Variable (TCV) in Lausanne, covers the implementation and exploitation of a multi-channel soft X-ray detector with high spatial and temporal resolution, together with the development of the tomographic inversion routines used for data analysis. The detector, comprised of two superposed wire chambers, has been tested and calibrated using an X-ray source and then installed onto the tokamak. The position of the detector was chosen such as to observe the whole plasma cross-section with maximum spatial resolution leading to high quality tomographic inversions. A mobile absorber holder was installed between the plasma and the wire chambers. The energy range of the soft X-ray emission observed by the detector was thus chosen by selecting the appropriate absorber. These various features have made possible the use of the detector for numerous studies and in particular for the spatial and temporal characterisation of the plasma internal transport barrier formation. Plasma shaping abilities covering a wide range of plasma elongations and triangularities, including negative values, are one of the strengths of the TCV tokamak. For instance, plasmas with elongated cross-sections offer higher energy confinement as well as higher plasma current and pressure limits. However, the increase of the plasma vertical instability growth rate with elongation makes the vertical control of elongated plasmas difficult, in particular if the plasma current profile is too peaked. As the current profile is usually peaked for low plasma currents, current profile broadening is required there to achieve high elongation. During this thesis, a current profile broadening method based on temperature profile modification by localised EC heating has been studied in detail. The mechanism of this method has been documented and the optimal conditions for the EC power deposition determined. Using these conditions, the TCV operational space has been extended towards higher elongation at low current. The highest elongation obtained at low current has been increased by over 25% permitting the exploration of the plasma transport properties in this regime. The flexibility of the TCV EC heating system has also been used to investigate radial electron heat transport in L-mode plasmas. For the first time, the normalised temperature gradient has been varied by a factor of four and its influence on electron heat transport has been separated from that of the electron temperature. Electron heat transport increases strongly with the normalised temperature gradient, for values between 6 and 10, and then becomes independent of this parameter. In addition, electron heat transport increases with increasing electron temperature, decreasing density and increasing effective charge. The electron heat transport dependence on these three parameters can be cast as a single dependence on the plasma collisionality. TCV shaping abilities have then been used to test the influence of plasma triangularity. The main variations of the level of electron heat transport are described by a decrease of the electron heat diffusivity towards negative triangularity and high collisionality. At constant collisionality, electron heat transport is two times lower at a negative triangularity of –0.4 than at a positive triangularity of +0.4. Concerning micro-instabilities, gyro-fluid and gyro-kinetic simulations indicate that TEM and ITG instabilities are at play in these plasmas. The good qualitative agreement between the observed experimental dependencies and the predictions of simulations suggests strongly that the TEM instabilities are involved in the transport of electron heat. The experimental study provides dependable scaling of the electron heat transport on plasma parameters that can now be used to test the prediction of transport simulations. New elements such as the saturation of electron heat transport at high values of the normalised temperature gradient and the decrease of electron heat transport towards negative triangularities have been demonstrated.