The US Department of Energy (DOE) recently announced $29 million in funding for 14 projects as part of the Galvanizing Advances in Market-aligned fusion for an Overabundance of Watts (GAMOW) programme.

The R&D effort is jointly sponsored by the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) and the Office of Science–Fusion Energy Sciences (SC-FES).

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

Projects will address one or more R&D categories, including:

  1.  technologies, materials, and superconducting-magnet and fuel-cycle subsystems between the fusion plasma and balance of plant;
  2. cost-effective, high-efficiency, high-duty-cycle, electrical-driver technologies; and
  3. cross-cutting areas such as novel fusion materials and advanced and additive manufacturing for fusion-relevant materials, components, and their cost-effective scale-up.

“GAMOW teams will work to further develop enabling fusion materials and subsystem technologies, with a focus on the timely future commercialisation and deployment of fusion energy generation,” said ARPA-E director Lane Genatowski.

The programme will draw on the capabilities and expertise of national laboratories, universities, and private industry to tackle key technological challenges on the road to fusion energy. These projects will "help keep America in the forefront of fusion energy research,” said Dr Chris Fall, director of DOE's Office of Science.

While recent investments have been made in the development of a viable and net-energy-gain fusion-energy system, there remains a significant need to focus on the materials and enabling technologies that will be needed to establish fusion energy’s technical and commercial viability once net energy gain is achieved, DOE said.

GAMOW projects will work in synergy with publicly and privately funded fusion-development efforts, including ARPA-E’s ALPHA and BETHE fusion programmes.

ARPA-E and SC-FES will jointly fund 14 projects over the three-year programme:

  • Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) – $3,100,000; ORNL and its partners will develop an integrated simulation environment, the Fusion Energy Reactor Models Integrator (FERMI), to assess and accelerate the design cycle of integrated fusion-energy systems.
  • University of California, San Diego – $1,750,000; The simultaneous handling of high expected wall heat loads and erosion while allowing for tritium recovery remains a challenge that could impede the successful development of commercial fusion energy. This project seeks to address this issue by developing a low-atomic-number renewable wall for fusion devices that contains a slurry composed of carbon, ceramics, and a volatile binder.
  • Savannah River National Laboratory – $1,500,000; Direct lithium tritide (LiT) electrolysis uses advanced solid lithium-conducting electrolytes to reduce the complexity and footprint of tritium extraction from blanket breeding materials, such as lead-lithium, in fusion energy systems. The new process eliminates the need for expensive equipment like centrifugal systems and molten salts used in similar proposed technologies.
  • Colorado School of Mines – $1,397,973; Tritium is a fusion fuel and must be continuously generated, recovered, and recycled in any tritium-fuelled fusion power plant. This project will develop and demonstrate engineered composite membranes for efficient tritium extraction for fusion applications.
  • Savannah River National Laboratory – $2,300,000; Fusion power cannot be realized without vacuum pumps. This project will identify an optimal pump-oil molecular composition and a tunable and selective catalytic process that can meet the pump-oil processing requirements for a fusion power plant.
  • University of Houston – $1,500,000; RE-Ba-Cu-O (REBCO, RE = rare earth) tapes enable >20-T magnets in compact, high-field magnetic-fusion devices but commercial REBCO tapes are expensive and use substrates limiting yield strength at the operating condition of high-temperature superconductor (HTS) magnets. This project proposes developing HTS conductors with increased critical current at >20 T and lower raw-materials cost.
  • Princeton Fusion Systems – $1,100,000; Wide-bandgap (WBG) semiconductor devices and innovative amplifiers may speed up the development of fusion systems and reduce their eventual cost of electricity. This project will develop prototype, high-efficiency switching amplifiers using WBG SiC devices and amplifier boards that employ advanced cooling and digital control.
  • University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) – $1,250,000; UCLA has recently explored a new class of plasma-robust materials with the potential to significantly reduce electrode erosion. The AMPERE project aims to identify a promising electrode material to be used and tested in future fusion experiments.
  • Bridge 12 Technologies Inc. –$2,300,000; This project aims todevelop and build a 1MW, 250GHz gyrotron demonstrator with a total efficiency >65 % that can be used in cost-effective, breakeven-class magnetic-fusion devices at operating parameters relevant for a commercial fusion power plant.
  • Phoenix, LLC – $2,500,000; This project will seek to increase the neutron flux by a factor of 100 over that of state-of-the-art beam-target fusion neutron sources by developing and testing a plasma window to enable an increase in the pressure of the gas target.
  • Oak Ridge National Laboratory – $3,300,000; Reduced-activation ferritic-martensitic (RAFM) steels are critical materials for fusion-energy subsystems. ORNL will establish a new class of RAFM steels based on carbide-strengthened CNAs to demonstrate the viability of industry-scale CAN production.
  • Stony Brook University – $2,400,000; This project seeks to improve the effectiveness and longevity of shield materials for high temperature-superconducting fusion magnets. This new class of shield is comprised of highly absorbing metal hydrides entrained within an irradiation-stable ceramic matrix.
  •  Pacific Northwest National Laboratory – $2,250,000; This project’s objective is scalable, cost-effective fabrication of high-performance, oxide-dispersion strengthened (ODS) steel with advanced-manufacturing methods for fusion blanket-breeding applications.
  • Oak Ridge National Laboratory – $2,250,000; Development of plasma-facing components (PFCs) is a critical challenge standing in the way of commercial fusion energy. ORNL aims to establish the materials and manufacturing-technology basis for fusion PFCs by developing additive manufacturing for the plasma-facing “armour” material (tungsten), along with a seamless graded transition to the underlying reduced-activation steel structure.