Focused Energy partners with LLNL on inertial fusion energy targets

November 10, 2023, 12:00PMNuclear News
Concept art showing inertial fusion ignition. (Image: Focused Energy)

Focused Energy and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have signed a strategic partnership project agreement that will allow LLNL—home of the National Ignition Facility (NIF)—to help the company develop and assess isochoric compression target designs for inertial fusion energy. Focused Energy announced the news on November 7.

Inertial fusion ignition and target gain greater than 1 were achieved at NIF in December 2022. “Scientific breakeven” boosted the prospects for inertial fusion energy just before the application period for funding under the Department of Energy’s public-private Milestone-Based Fusion Development Program closed. Focused Energy was ultimately one of the eight fusion developers the DOE selected for funding in late May, and one of only two developers using an inertial confinement concept.

Look to the experts at NIF: Focused Energy was founded in 2021—the same year NIF recorded what was at the time a record-breaking laser shot generating 1.3 megajoules of fusion energy—and includes former LLNL staff among its employees and executives.

Scientists at NIF use multiple laser beams to compress and ignite spherical targets containing deuterium-tritium fuel, and the inertial fusion energy companies’ concepts plan to do the same. But NIF was designed for experimental flexibility, not energy production. In an inertial fusion power plant, individual targets would not be housed inside a cylindrical hohlraum as at NIF—instead, Focused Energy would opt for “direct-drive” compression of targets and a high repetition rate. The energy released as neutrons from the fusion of D-T fuel would heat the fusion chamber wall, and that heat would drive a power plant.

Under the new contract, LLNL will use its codes and tools to help Focused Energy study and optimize target designs for achieving high compression in isochoric fuel assemblies required for fast ignition inertial confinement fusion.

Focused Energy’s German target work: Nuclear Newswire took a closer look at Focused Energy and the other inertial confinement concept selected for milestone funding—Xcimer Energy—in June.

Focused Energy describes itself as “a German American company spun off from the Technical University of Darmstadt in 2021 that will enable safe, clean, and virtually inexhaustible energy production through laser-based nuclear fusion in just a few years.” It proposes to get there by combining direct-drive laser fuel compression with “proton fast ignition.”

The BB-sized synthetic diamond target capsules LLNL uses in NIF are produced in southern Germany by Diamond Materials GmbH through a partnership with LLNL and General Atomics. Focused Energy’s capsules would be different. The diamond shell of NIF’s targets would be replaced with two layers of plastic and an outer coating of metal around the 2-millimeter target. Like the NIF targets, the target shell would enclose a layer of D-T ice surrounding D-T gas.

“We are developing the technology for high-repetition-rate laser-driver systems of increased reliability and reduced cost by mass manufacturability,” Focused Energy says on its website. The company also markets its laser-driven radiation sources that can produce neutron, X-ray, and muon beams as diagnostic tools for industrial users.

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