EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Fusion Energy Science and Technology

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: Physics

Abstract

Fusion is the process that powers the Sun, and if it can be reproduced here on Earth it would solve one of the biggest challenges facing humanity - plentiful, safe, sustainable power to the grid. For fusion to occur requires the deuterium and tritium (DT) mix of fuels to be heated to ten times the temperature at the centre of the Sun, and confined for sufficient time at sufficient density. The fuel is then in the plasma state - a form of ionised gas. Our CDT explores two approaches to creating the fusion conditions in the plasma: (1) magnetic confinement fusion which holds the fuel by magnetic fields at relatively low density for relatively long times in a chamber called a tokamak, and (2) inertial confinement fusion which holds the fuel for a very short time related to the plasma inertia but at huge densities which are achieved by powerful lasers focused onto a solid DT pellet. A main driver for our CDT is the people that are required as we approach the final stages towards the commercialisation of fusion energy. This requires high calibre researchers to be internationally competitive and win time on the new generation of fusion facilities such as the 15Bn Euro ITER international tokamak under construction in the South of France, and the range of new high power laser facilities across Europe and beyond (e.g. NIF in the US). ITER, for example, will produce ten times more fusion power than that used to heat the plasma to fusion conditions, to answer the final physics questions and most technology questions to enable the design of the first demonstration reactors.

Fusion integrates many research areas. Our CDT trains across plasma physics and materials strands, giving students depth of knowledge in their chosen strand, but also breadth across both to instil an understanding of how the two are closely coupled in a fusion device. Training in advanced instrumentation and microscopy is required to understand how materials and plasmas behave (and interact) in the extreme fusion conditions. Advanced computing cuts across materials science and plasma physics, so high performance computing is embedded in our taught programme and several PhD research projects. Fusion requires advances in technology as well as scientific research. We focus on areas that link to our core interests of materials and plasmas, such as the negative ion sources required for the large neutral beam heating systems or the design of the divertor components to handle high heat loads.

Our students have access to world-class facilities that enhance the local infrastructure of the partner universities. The Central Laser Facility and Orion laser at AWE, for example, provide an important UK capability, while LMJ, XFEL and the ELI suite of laser facilities offer opportunities for high impact research to establish track records. In materials, we have access to the National Ion Beam Centre, including Dalton Cumbria Facility; the Materials Research Facility at Culham for studying radioactive samples; the emerging capability of the Royce institute, and the Jules Horowitz reactor for neutron irradiation experiments in the near future. The JET and MAST-U tokamaks at Culham are key for plasma physics and materials science. MAST-U is returning to experiments following a £55M upgrade, while JET is preparing for record- breaking fusion experiments with DT. Overseas, we have an MoU with the Korean national fusion institute (NFRI) to collaborate on materials research and on their superconducting tokamak, KSTAR. The latter provides important experience for our students as both the JT-60SA tokamak (under construction in Japan as an EU-Japan collaboration) and ITER will have superconducting magnets, and plays to the strengths of our superconducting materials capability at Durham and Oxford. These opportunities together provide an excellent training environment and create a high impact arena with strong international visibility for our students.

Planned Impact

Identifying a sustainable energy supply is one of the biggest challenges facing humanity. Fusion energy has great potential to make a major contribution to the baseload supply - it produces no greenhouse gases, has abundant fuel and limited waste. Furthermore, the UK is amongst the world leaders in the endeavour to commercialise fusion, with a rapidly growing fusion technology and physics programme undertaken at UKAEA within the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE). With the construction of ITER - the 15Bn Euro international fusion energy research facility - expected to be completed in the middle of the 2020's, we are taking a huge step towards fusion power. ITER is designed to address all the science and many of the technology issues required to inform the design of the first demonstration reactors, called DEMO. It is also providing a vehicle to upskill industry through the multi-million pound high-tech contracts it places, including in the UK.
ITER embodies the magnetic confinement approach to fusion (MCF). An alternative approach is inertial fusion energy (IFE), where small pellets of fuel are compressed and heated to fusion conditions by an intense driver, typically high-power lasers. While ignition was anticipated on the world's most advanced laser fusion facility, NIF (US), it did not happen; the research effort is now focused on understanding why not and the consequences for IFE, as well as alternative IFE schemes to that employed on NIF.

Our CDT is designed to ensure that the UK is well positioned to exploit ITER and next generation laser facilities to maximise their benefit to the UK and indeed international fusion effort. There are a number of beneficiaries to our training programme: (1) CCFE and the national fusion programme will benefit by employing our trained students who will be well- equipped to play leading roles in the international exploitation of ITER and DEMO design; (2) industry will be able to recruit our students, providing companies with fusion experience as part of the evolution necessary to prepare to build the first demonstration power plants; (3) Government will benefit from a cadre of fusion experts to advise on its role in the international fusion programme, as well as to deliver that programme; (4) the UK requires laser plasma physicists to understand why NIF has not achieved ignition and identify a pathway to inertial fusion energy.

As well as these core fusion impacts, there are impacts in related disciplines. (1) Some of our students will be trained in low temperature plasmas, which also have technological applications in a wide range of sectors including advanced manufacturing and spacecraft/satellite propulsion; (2) our training in materials science has close synergies with the advances in the fission programme and so has impacts there; (3) AWE require expertise in materials science and high energy density plasma physics as part of the national security and non-proliferation strategy; (4) the students we train in socio-economic aspects of fusion will be in a position to help guide policy across a range of areas that fusion science and technology touches; (5) those students involved in inertial fusion will be equipped to advance basic science understanding across a range of applications involving extreme states of matter, such as laboratory astrophysics and equations of state at extreme pressures, positioning the UK to win time on the emerging next generation of international laser facilities; (6) our training in advanced instrumentation and control impacts many sectors in industry as well as academia (eg astrophysics); (7) finally, high performance computing underpins much of our plasma and materials science, and our students' skills in advanced software are valued by many companies in sectors such as nuclear, fluid dynamics and finance.

Publications

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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/S022430/1 01/10/2020 31/03/2028
2440150 Studentship EP/S022430/1 01/10/2020 30/09/2024 Luke Thompson
2440167 Studentship EP/S022430/1 01/10/2020 30/09/2024 Iain Calum Freeman
2440138 Studentship EP/S022430/1 01/10/2020 30/09/2024 Ryan Magee
2445307 Studentship EP/S022430/1 01/10/2020 30/09/2024 Nicholas Osborne
2431041 Studentship EP/S022430/1 01/10/2020 30/09/2024 Daniel Greenhouse
2445304 Studentship EP/S022430/1 01/10/2020 30/09/2024 Yacopo Damizia
2431065 Studentship EP/S022430/1 01/10/2020 30/09/2024 Ben Pritchard
2430954 Studentship EP/S022430/1 01/10/2020 30/09/2024 Theodore Gheorghiu
2440085 Studentship EP/S022430/1 01/10/2020 30/09/2024 Leo Richardson
2440958 Studentship EP/S022430/1 01/10/2020 30/09/2024 Michal Kryjak