More US funding for fusion research

17 February 2020

NSTXU at Princeton Plasma Physics LaboratoryThe US Department of Energy (DOE) on 13 February announced up to $50 million in cross-cutting departmental funding for programmes to support fusion energy research and development. 

The Office of Science announced $20 million to research fusion energy at both US and international facilities, focusing on the use of spherical tokamaks.

The initiative will support research by US scientists at existing fusion facilities in the USA, UK, and other countries with current bilateral agreements with the USA. 

It will also provide support for research at the National Spherical Tokamak Experiment Upgrade (NSTX-U) at DOE’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory in New Jersey when it resumes operations. 

NSTX-U is currently completing repairs and is expected to resume operations in May 2021. The research will also support the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (Iter) under construction in France.

“In addition to having potential performance advantages, spherical tokamaks can serve as excellent research instruments to probe key physics problems prior to burning plasma operation in ITER,” said Under Secretary for Science Paul Dabbar. 

“This initiative will help keep American scientists in a leadership role as we move toward the goal of cost-effective fusion energy for the world.”

DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) and the Office of Science’s Fusion Energy Sciences programme (FES), in a joint funding effort, will award up to $30 million in funding to research and develop a range of enabling technologies required for commercially attractive fusion energy.

The programme, Galvanizing Advances in Market-aligned fusion for an Overabundance of Watts (GAMOW), will prioritise R&D particularly in: all the required technologies and subsystems between the fusion plasma and the balance of plant; cost-effective, high-efficiency, high-duty-cycle driver technologies; and important cross-cutting areas such as novel fusion materials and advanced and additive manufacturing. 

“We’re excited to partner with the Fusion Energy Sciences program in pursuit of our mission to support transformational energy projects. Together, we are equipping America’s energy researchers with the funding, technical assistance, and market readiness to create the energy systems of the future,” said ARPA-E Director Lane Genatowski.

For more than sixty years, fusion R&D has primarily focused on attaining the required fuel density, temperature, and energy confinement time necessary for a viable fusion energy system. 

Over time, investment into the fundamental enabling technologies and advanced materials that are needed to support fusion energy has grown. Still, there remains a significant need for progress in this space before a fusion energy system can become commercially attractive, according to DOE. GAMOW seeks to address this need by funding projects that support innovative R&D for fusion energy subsystems and cross-cutting research.

Programme objectives include:

  • Substantial progress toward demonstrating technical feasibility and/or increases in performance compared to present state-of-the-art;
  • Enabling significant device simplification or elimination of entire subsystems of fusion energy systems;
  • Reduction in fusion energy system cost, including critical materials and component testing; and
  • Improvements in the reliability, safety, and/or environmental attractiveness of fusion energy systems. 

ARPA-E will contribute up to $15 million in funding over the three-year programme, while the FES will contribute up to $5 million a year for three years for qualifying technologies. 

GAMOW will also have a technology-to-market focus, requiring applicants to identify how their proposed project will help enable commercially attractive fusion energy systems beyond the end of the programme. It will also be looking for applicants to show how their project builds off of ARPA-E’s existing fusion energy programmes, Accelerating Low-Cost Plasma Heating and Assembly (ALPHA) and Breakthroughs Enabling THermonuclear-fusion Energy (BETHE).

Photo: NSTX-U overhead taken February 2016 (Credit: Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory)

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