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The US Department of Energy (DOE), last week, announced the winners of $32 million in funding for 15 nuclear fusion research projects.

The funding award was part of the Breakthroughs Enabling THermonuclear-fusion Energy (BETHE) programme.

The BETHE projects will work to develop timely, commercially viable fusion energy, with the goal of increasing the number and performance levels of lower-cost fusion concepts.

“Fusion energy technology holds great potential to be a safe, clean, reliable energy source, but research and development of fusion technology is often constrained by prohibitive costs,” said DOE under secretary of Energy Mark W Menezes. “BETHE teams will build on recent progress in fusion research and the growing fusion community to lower costs and further foster viable commercial opportunities for the next generation of fusion technology.”

Commercial fusion technology has long been viewed as an ideal energy source. However, there remains a need to lower the costs of fusion development and accelerate its development timeline to have appreciable impact, DOE said.

If a grid-ready fusion demonstration can be realised within around 20 years, while achieving cost competitiveness, then fusion could contribute to meeting low-carbon energy demand and achieving decarbonisation in the latter half of this century, DOE added.

"BETHE projects address these needs by building on Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy’s (ARPA-E) first focused fusion programme, ALPHA, to grow the number of privately funded fusion companies," it said.

“These BETHE projects further advance ARPA-E’s commitment to the development of fusion energy as a cost-competitive, viable, energy generation source,” said ARPA-E director Lane Genatowski.

BETHE projects span three research categories: (1) Concept Development to advance the performance of inherently lower-cost but less-mature fusion concepts; (2) Component Technology Development that could significantly reduce the capital cost of higher-cost, more-mature fusion concepts; and (3) Capability Teams to improve/adapt and apply existing capabilities to accelerate the development of multiple concepts.

The winning projects include:

University of Wisconsin-Madison (An HTS Axisymmetric Magnetic Mirror on a Faster Path to Lower Cost Fusion Energy - $5m);Zap Energy – Seattle (Sheared Flow Stabilized Z-Pinch Performance Improvement - $1m);University of Maryland, Baltimore County – Baltimore (Centrifugal Mirror Fusion Experiment - $4m);NK Labs– Cambridge, MA (Conditions for High-Yield Muon Catalysed Fusion - $830,000);University of Washington – Seattle (Demonstration of Low-Density, High-Performance Operation of Sustained Spheromaks andFavorable Scalability Toward Compact, Low-Cost Fusion Power Plants - $1.5m);Los Alamos National Laboratory (Target Formation and Integrated Experiments for Plasma-Jet Driven Magneto-Inertial Fusion - $4,618,001); Commonwealth Fusion Systems – Cambridge, MA (Pulsed High Temperature Superconducting Central Solenoid for Revolutionizing Tokamaks - $2.39m);Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory – Princeton (Stellarator Simplification using Permanent Magnets - $3m);University of Rochester – Rochester, New York (Advanced Inertial Fusion Energy Target Designs and Driver Development - $1.75m);Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University – Blacksburg, VA (Capability in Theory, Modeling, and Validation for a Range of Innovative Fusion Concepts Using High-Fidelity Moment-Kinetic Models - $2.4m);Sapientai– Austin, Texas (Data-Enabled Fusion Technology - $1.65m); University of Rochester – Rochester, New York (A Simulation Resource Team for Innovative Fusion Concepts - $2m);Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Radio Frequency Scenario Modelling for Breakthrough Fusion Concepts - $1.25m);Oak Ridge National Laboratory (Magnetic Field Vector Measurements Using Doppler-Free Saturation Spectroscopy - $600,000); andLos Alamos National Laboratory (Electromagnetic and Particle Diagnostics for Transformative Fusion-Energy Concepts - $375,000).

Date: Wednesday, 15 April 2020
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