A closer look at SPARC’s burning plasma ambitions

Cutaway of the SPARC engineering design. Image: CFS/MIT-PSFC, CAD rendering by T. Henderson

Seven open-access, peer-reviewed papers on the design of SPARC, Commonwealth Fusion Systems’ (CFS) fusion tokamak, written in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center, were published on September 29 in a special edition of the Journal of Plasma Physics.

The papers describe a compact fusion device that will achieve net energy where the plasma generates more fusion power than used to start and sustain the process, which is the requirement for a fusion power plant, according to CFS.

The timeline for this planned device sets it apart from other magnetic confinement fusion tokamaks: Construction is to begin in 2021, with the device coming on line in 2025.

CFS expects the device to achieve a burning plasma—a self-sustaining fusion reaction—and become the world’s first net energy (Q>1) fusion system. The newly released papers reflect more than two years of work by CFS and the Plasma Science and Fusion Center to refine their design. According to CFS, the papers apply the same physics rules and simulations used to design ITER, now under construction in France, and predict, based on results from existing experiments, that SPARC will achieve its goal of Q>2. In fact, the papers describe how, under certain parameters, SPARC could achieve a Q ratio of 10 or more.

JPP lays out SPARC fusion physics basis

Cutaway of the SPARC engineering design. Image: CFS/MIT-PSFC, CAD Rendering by T. Henderson

A special issue of the Journal of Plasma Physics gives a glimpse into the physics basis for SPARC, the DT-burning tokamak being designed by a team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Commonwealth Fusion Systems. The special issue was announced in a September 29 post on the Cambridge University Press blog Cambridge Core.

The special JPP issue includes seven peer-reviewed articles on the SPARC concept, which takes advantage of recent breakthroughs in high-temperature superconductor technology to burn plasma in a compact tokamak design.

ANS designates TFTR and FCF for landmark status

A look inside the TFTR plasma vessel. Photo: DOE

The Tokamak Fusion Test Reactor (TFTR) at Princeton University and the Fuel Cycle Facility (FCF) (now known as the Fuel Conditioning Facility) at Idaho National Laboratory have been designated as ANS Nuclear Historic Landmarks. The official awarding of the honors will occur during the 2020 ANS Virtual Winter Meeting, which begins November 16.

The TFTR received the award for demonstrating significant fusion energy production and tritium technologies for future nuclear fusion power plants and for the first detailed exploration of magnetically confined deuterium-tritium (D-T) fusion plasmas.

INL’s FCF and its Experimental Breeder Reactor II (EBR-II) were honored for demonstrating on-site recycling of used nuclear fuel back into a nuclear reactor.

DOE awards $17 million for research at Princeton fusion facility

The NSTX-U “umbrella.” Photo: Elle Starkman/ PPPL Office of Communications

The Department of Energy on September 8 announced funding for research at the National Spherical Tokamak Experiment Upgrade (NSTX-U), an Office of Science user facility at the DOE’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory in Princeton, N.J.

Total planned funding is $17 million for the NSTX-U work over five years in duration. As much as $6 million in fiscal year 2020 dollars and out-year funding could be available this year, contingent on congressional appropriations and satisfactory progress.

The initiative will support experiments, data analysis, and computer modeling and simulation of plasma behavior. A major focus will be on the start of laying the scientific groundwork for a next-generation facility through better understanding of the behavior of plasmas in spherical tokamaks, the DOE said.

DOE grants $29 million for fusion energy R&D

The Department of Energy announced on September 2 that it has issued $29 million in funding for 14 projects as part of its Galvanizing Advances in Market-aligned fusion for an Overabundance of Watts (GAMOW) program, which is jointly sponsored by the department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E) and the Office of Science–Fusion Energy Sciences (SC-FES).

According to the DOE, GAMOW teams will work to close multiple fusion-specific technological gaps that will be needed to connect a net-energy-gain “fusion core,” once it is ready, to a deployable, commercially attractive fusion system.

Federal dollars support AI/machine learning for fusion research

The Department of Energy on August 19 announced several awards to research teams applying artificial intelligence and machine learning to fusion energy. The planned total funding of $21 million is targeted at projects with time frames of up to three years; $8 million in fiscal year 2020 funding has already been committed to the work. Delivery of the balance-of-project funding will depend on future congressional appropriations.

“These awards will enable fusion researchers to take advantage of recent rapid advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning,” said Chris Fall, director of the DOE’s Office of Science. “AI and ML will help us to accelerate progress in fusion and keep American scientists at the forefront of fusion research.”

NASA work on lattice confinement fusion grabs attention

An article recently published on the IEEE Energywise blog heralds “Spacecraft of the Future,” which could be powered by lattice confinement fusion. While lattice confinement fusion is not a new concept and is definitely not ready for practical applications, it has been detected within metal samples by NASA researchers at the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, using an electron accelerator–driven experimental process.

New model stretches the limits of fusion torus control

PPPL physicists Raffi Nazikian (left) and Qiming Hu, with a figure from their research. Photo: PPPL/Elle Starkman

Stars contain their plasma with the force of gravity, but here on earth, plasma in fusion tokamaks must be magnetically confined. That confinement is tenuous, because tokamaks are subject to edge localized modes (ELM)—intense bursts of heat and particles that must be controlled to prevent instabilities and damage to the fusion reactor.

Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) and at General Atomics (GA) recently published a paper in Physical Review Letters explaining this tokamak restriction and a potential path to overcome it. They have developed a new model for ELM suppression in the DIII-D National Fusion Facility, which is operated by GA for the DOE. PPPL physicists Qiming Hu and Raffi Nazikian are the lead authors of the paper, which was announced on August 10 by PPPL.

Assembly of ITER begins in Southern France

Those attending the livestreamed July 28 celebration in person (shown here from above) followed recommended social distancing measures.

First-of-a-kind components have been arriving in recent months at the ITER construction site in Cadarache, France, from some of the 35 ITER member countries around the world. The arrival on July 21 of the first sector of the ITER vacuum vessel from South Korea marks the beginning of a four-and-a-half year machine assembly process for the world’s largest tokamak, a magnetic fusion device designed to prove the feasibility of fusion as an energy source.

South Korea completes first vacuum vessel section for ITER

ITER vacuum vessel section no. 6, shown here, was completely assembled in April. South Korea is providing four of the nine 40-degree vacuum vessel sections; Europe is providing the other five. Photo: ITER

South Korea’s Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) has completed work on the first vacuum vessel section for the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), the ITER Organization reported on April 28. The 440-ton section is now being prepared for shipping this summer to the ITER construction site, located near Saint-Paul-lez-Durance, France.

DOE offers $12 million for fusion QIS research

The Department of Energy will provide $12 million for research in quantum information science (QIS) for fusion energy and plasma science. The research is expected to focus on a range of topics, including the design of quantum computing algorithms to solve problems in fusion energy, the development of quantum sensing diagnostics for fusion experiments, and the formation of novel quantum materials using high-energy-density plasmas.

DOE explores cost-sharing program for fusion reactors

The Department of Energy’s Office of Science is inviting input on its plan to develop a cost-share program in fusion reactor technologies. A request for information was published in the Federal Register, inviting interested parties to comment on the topical areas, program objectives, eligibility requirements, program organization and structure, public and private roles and responsibilities, funding modalities, and assessment criteria of such an initiative.

Jacobs wins $25 million in ITER, UKAEA contracts

Jacobs has been awarded several contracts to support work on the ITER fusion project. Photo: ITER Organization

The global engineering company Jacobs announced on April 14 that it has been awarded several contracts with an estimated combined value of more than $25 million. The contracts are with the ITER Organization, Fusion for Energy, and the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) and are intended to support fusion energy projects in France and the United Kingdom.

ARPA-E awards $32 million for fusion energy research

The winners of $32 million in funding for 15 projects to develop timely, commercially viable fusion energy were announced by the Department of Energy in April. As part of the DOE Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy’s (ARPA-E) Breakthroughs Enabling THermonuclear-fusion Energy (BETHE) program, the projects will work to increase the number and performance levels of lower-cost fusion concepts.

DOE to award $30 million for new fusion research

The Department of Energy announced on March 4 that it will provide $30 million for new research on fusion energy. The funding will provide $17 million for research focused specifically on artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) approaches for the prediction of key plasma phenomena, management of facility operations, and accelerated discovery through data science, among other topics. An additional $13 million under a separate funding opportunity will be devoted to fundamental fusion theory research, including computer modeling and simulation, focused on factors affecting the behavior of hot plasmas confined by magnetic fields in fusion reactors.

Listen: ANS Member Dr. Christopher Morrison on Space Radiation & More

TheSpaceShowANS member Dr. Christopher Morrison was a recent guest on The Space Show. Dr. Morrison covered space radiation, lifetime radiation limitations, legal limits, rodent GCR and radiation experimentation, terrestrial radiation simulations, space nuclear power & propulsion, super-cooling conductivity.

October's Fusion Science & Technology journal is available

The October 2012 issue of the technical journal Fusion Science and Technology is available electronically and in hard copy for American Nuclear Society member subscribers and others.  Non-subscribers click here to learn how to subscribe to FST and other ANS titles.