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Section: Research Program

Kinetic models for plasmas

The fundamental model for plasma physics is the coupled Vlasov-Maxwell kinetic model: the Vlasov equation describes the distribution function of particles (ions and electrons), while the Maxwell equations describe the electromagnetic field. In some applications, it may be necessary to take relativistic particles into account, which leads to consider the relativistic Vlasov equation, even if in general, tokamak plasmas are supposed to be non-relativistic. The distribution function of particles depends on seven variables (three for space, three for the velocity and one for time), which yields a huge amount of computations.

To these equations we must add several types of source terms and boundary conditions for representing the walls of the tokamak, the applied electromagnetic field that confines the plasma, fuel injection, collision effects, etc.

Tokamak plasmas possess particular features, which require developing specialized theoretical and numerical tools.

Because the magnetic field is strong, the particle trajectories have a very fast rotation around the magnetic field lines. A full resolution would require a prohibitive amount of calculations. It is then necessary to develop reduced models for large magnetic fields in order to obtain tractable calculations. The resulting model is called a gyrokinetic model. It allows us to reduce the dimensionality of the problem. Such models are implemented in GYSELA and Selalib.

On the boundary of the plasma, the collisions can no more be neglected. Fluid models, such as the MagnetoHydroDynamics (MHD) become again relevant. For the good operation of the tokamak, it is necessary to control MHD instabilities that arise at the plasma boundary. Computing these instabilities requires special implicit numerical discretizations with excellent long time behavior.

In addition to theoretical modelling tools, it is necessary to develop numerical schemes adapted to kinetic, gyrokinetic and fluid models. Three kinds of methods are studied in TONUS: Particle-In-Cell (PIC) methods, semi-Lagrangian and fully Eulerian approaches.

Gyrokinetic models: theory and approximation

In most phenomena where oscillations are present, we can establish a three-model hierarchy: (i) the model parameterized by the oscillation period, (ii) the limit model and (iii) the two-scale model, possibly with its corrector. In a context where one wishes to simulate such a phenomenon where the oscillation period is small and the oscillation amplitude is not small, it is important to have numerical methods based on an approximation of the Two-Scale model. If the oscillation period varies significantly over the domain of simulation, it is important to have numerical methods that approximate properly and effectively the model parameterized by the oscillation period and the Two-Scale model. Implementing Two-Scale Numerical Methods (for instance by Frénod et al. [23]) is based on the numerical approximation of the Two-Scale model. These are called of order 0. A Two-Scale Numerical Method is called of order 1 if it incorporates information from the corrector and from the equation of which this corrector is a solution. If the oscillation period varies between very small values and values of order 1, it is necessary to have new types of numerical schemes (Two-Scale Asymptotic Preserving Schemes of order 1 or TSAPS) that preserve the asymptotics between the model parameterized by the oscillation period and the Two-Scale model with its corrector. A first work in this direction has been initiated by Crouseilles et al. [22].

Semi-Lagrangian schemes

The Strasbourg team has a long and recognized experience in numerical methods of Vlasov-type equations. We are specialized in both particle and phase space solvers for the Vlasov equation: Particle-in-Cell (PIC) methods and semi-Lagrangian methods. We also have a long-standing collaboration with the CEA of Cadarache for the development of the GYSELA software for gyrokinetic tokamak plasmas.

The Vlasov and the gyrokinetic models are partial differential equations that express the transport of the distribution function in the phase space. In the original Vlasov case, the phase space is the six-dimension position-velocity space. For the gyrokinetic model, the phase space is five-dimensional because we consider only the parallel velocity in the direction of the magnetic field and the gyrokinetic angular velocity instead of three velocity components.

A few years ago, Eric Sonnendrücker and his collaborators introduced a new family of methods for solving transport equations in the phase space. This family of methods are the semi-Lagrangian methods. The principle of these methods is to solve the equation on a grid of the phase space. The grid points are transported with the flow of the transport equation for a time step and interpolated back periodically onto the initial grid. The method is then a mix of particle Lagrangian methods and Eulerian methods. The characteristics can be solved forward or backward in time leading to the Forward Semi-Lagrangian (FSL) or Backward Semi-Lagrangian (BSL) schemes. Conservative schemes based on this idea can be developed and are called Conservative Semi-Lagrangian (CSL).

GYSELA is a 5D full gyrokinetic code based on a classical backward semi-Lagrangian scheme (BSL) [27] for the simulation of core turbulence that has been developed at CEA Cadarache in collaboration with our team [24].

More recently, we have started to apply the Semi-Lagrangian methods to more general kinetic equations. Indeed, most of the conservation laws of physics can be represented by a kinetic model with a small set of velocities and relaxation source terms [7]. Compressible fluids or MHD equations have such representations. Semi-Lagrangian methods then become a very appealing and efficient approach for solving these equations.

PIC methods

Historically PIC methods have been very popular for solving the Vlasov equations. They allow solving the equations in the phase space at a relatively low cost. The main disadvantage of this approach is that, due to its random aspect, it produces an important numerical noise that has to be controlled in some way, for instance by regularizations of the particles, or by divergence correction techniques in the Maxwell solver. We have a long-standing experience in PIC methods and we started implementing them in Selalib. An important aspect is to adapt the method to new multicore computers. See the work by Crestetto and Helluy [21].