Assystem has partnered with the University of York in the UK to launch a PhD focused on researching the development of a digital twin for a complex component which is essential to produce fusion energy. Assystem said investing in research is a vital step in the journey to realising the commercial viability of fusion, which is a strategic goal for the UK as it prepares to build a prototype fusion power plant.

The digital twin will model the divertor, one of the most challenging components in a tokamak fusion reactor. The tokamak fusion reactor uses powerful magnets to control a super-heated plasma away from the surface of the machine, and extract heat from the fusion reactions. The divertor, a key component inside the tokamak, manages plasma contamination and protects the surrounding equipment from thermal and neutron damage.

The PhD will entail research to establish how a range of physics domains interact with the design of the component, including plasma, thermal, mechanical, electrical and particle transport and capture. The digital twin will incorporate these physical processes in a design environment and will also investigate how inputs from an operating fusion energy plant can be used to drive the model of the divertor, creating a true virtual copy which is connected to the operating plant.

The resulting Digital Twin will enable virtual gauges to be present on the divertor, measuring, by calculation, key parameters that physically cannot be instrumented, such as irradiation damage, crack propagation and fatigue damage.

Assystem is coordinating a new Fusion Industry Taskforce to clearly define the needs of the UK’s growing fusion supply chain. The PhD is part of the UK Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council Centre for Doctoral Training in Fusion Energy Science & Technology (Fusion CDT) The Fusion CDT a collaboration between five universities (Durham, Liverpool, Manchester, Oxford and York) working with a range of non-academic and industry partners to train four cohorts of PhD students. The four-year PhD programme recruits about 20 students each year, focussing on plasma physics, materials science, advanced instrumentation and related technologies. After an initial period of taught courses in the first year to build essential fusion knowledge, students work on their research projects, sharing knowledge and experiences.