The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy joined with the Department of Energy (DOE) for a Fusion Energy Summit on March 17 to set a bold decadal vision for commercial fusion energy. Fusion, the energy that powers the stars, is clean, inherently safe, and does not produce carbon emissions.
The meeting brought together policy leaders and experts from national laboratories, academic researchers, and the ever increasing number of private-sector companies to say that “the time is now” to move on fusion energy commercialization.
The Summit was followed by Fusion Day, with community leaders briefing Congressional and Senate staff. Later, a DOE Workshop on Fusion Energy Development via Public-Private Partnerships was sponsored by the Office of Science and hosted by the Office of the Undersecretary for Science and Innovation. The Workshop was held June 1-3 in Washington, DC.
Heady times for fusion R&D
Fusion energy has moved rapidly in recent years, with record-breaking results on both magnetic fusion (where hot matter is confined by strong magnetic fields) and inertial fusion (where matter is crushed to extreme densities by powerful lasers or other drivers) approaches in the past year. This has been paralleled by a multi-billion-dollar commercial investment in the past few years.
“Fusion has the potential to be a vastly scalable carbon-free source of energy, and the Laboratory is ready for important contributions to bring it to reality,” said Cameron Geddes, Director of the Accelerator Technology & Applied Physics (ATAP) Division at Berkeley Lab. Geddes was among the authors of a key fusion-strategy document published in 2021. Powering the Future: Fusion & Plasmas was published by the Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee (FESAC), a panel providing independent advice to the DOE Office of Science.
How Berkeley Lab can help make the dream of fusion energy a reality
ATAP—previously the Accelerator & Fusion Research Division—traces its fusion contributions back to the origins of the field in the late 1950s. Today, ATAP can contribute to both magnetic and inertial approaches in ways that range from plasma science to superconducting magnet development to advanced technology for driving fusion reactions. Fusion progress can draw upon capabilities from across the Lab, ranging from advanced materials and photon sources to nuclear science to leadership computing.
Superconducting magnets and cables underlie magnetic fusion approaches, including the upcoming International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor project. To help make these machines practical, ATAP and Engineering Division expertise in superconducting materials, cables, and magnets has been parlayed into benefits for fusion power through collaborations with US ITER and (with the newfound private-sector interest in fusion energy) Commonwealth Fusion Systems and General Atomics. The program works with both the highly cryogenic traditional superconductors shown here and high-temperature superconductors.
A Department of Energy Basic Research Needs Workshop on inertial fusion energy (IFE), scheduled for June 21-23, 2022, will help lay out a path for the resurgent interest in this approach kindled by a record-breaking shot with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s National Ignition Facility laser.
ATAP’s Berkeley Lab Laser Accelerator (BELLA) Center and Fusion Sciences and Ion Beam Technologies programs are leaders in an exciting field called high-energy density physics with laboratory plasmas (HEDP-LP), a field that a National Research Council report described as “the ‘X Games’ of contemporary science.” This field underlies the physics of IFE. This research also includes potential new laser-driven technologies for producing ion beams, useful for everything from IFE ignitor pulses to quantum computing hardware to biomedical research and cancer treatment. The BELLA lasers are part of LaserNetUS, a program organized and funded by the DOE Office of Fusion Energy Sciences to give researchers access to unique lasers important to these fields.
IFE will require efficient drivers such as high-average-power lasers, which can leverage technologies we are developing for kBELLA, the next-generation laser for accelerator experiments and potentially also new ion beam methods developed through ATAP research.
A synergy between BELLA Center, FSIBT, and our instrumentation programs also promises to be of great benefit to fusion energy: diagnostics of fusion systems using compact, precise sources of photons and of charged particles that are based on laser-plasma accelerators.
ATAP’s Berkeley Lab Laser Accelerator (BELLA) Center is part of LaserNetUS, a program organized and funded by the DOE Office of Fusion Energy Sciences to give researchers access to unique lasers. These lasers are important for an exciting and fusion-relevant field called high-energy density physics with laboratory plasmas (HEDP-LP), a field that a National Research Council report described as “the ‘X Games’ of contemporary science.”
For decades, fusion research has gone hand in hand with the fastest computers and most advanced modeling techniques. Today, ATAP is a center for accelerator modeling, which has many synergies with fusion. ATAP’s Accelerator Modeling Program is part of the push toward the exascale era of computing, together with Berkeley Lab’s National Energy Research Supercomputing Center and allied mathematical and computer-science expertise. Exascale simulations can help with complex and important topics, such as the microphysics of both inertial and magnetic fusion energy.
Societal benefits far beyond the laboratory
The development of a diverse fusion science and technology workforce, and the potential of fusion in the quest for energy justice, were among the other strong themes of the Summit. “Diversity and equity are integral to how the Lab performs team science,” said Geddes, adding that “fusion has the potential to address pollution, climate change, and energy price issues, all of which have important social equity aspects.”
NEWS IN BRIEF
LPAs Take Center Stage in Latest Basics2Breakthroughs Video
Laser-driven plasma wakefield accelerators are small, but they pack a lot into a short length. In the latest video in Berkeley Lab’s Basics2Breakthroughs series, Berkeley Lab Laser Accelerator Center research scientist Marlene Turner explains how they work, and how imparting high energy to particles in a small length might transform everything from physics research to applications like cancer therapy.
The Basics2Breakthroughs video series focuses on early career scientists discussing their research and what they hope for the future in that research. The brief videos span the diverse Berkeley Lab R&D portfolio.
ATAP Hosts IAEA Meeting on Beams and Qubits
ATAP recently hosted a meeting for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to discuss recent results from a coordinated research project that has been facilitated by the IAEA over the last four years. The Third Research Coordination Meeting on Ion Beam Induced Spatio-Temporal Structural Evolution of Materials: Accelerators for a New Technology Era” was held April 25-29, 2022 at Berkeley Lab.
The focus of the project is the development of qubits in silicon and diamond for applications ranging from quantum sensing to quantum computing. Particle accelerators and the control of materials properties with particle beams play a major role in the development of the quantum hardware needed for these applications.
Thomas Schenkel, head of ATAP’s Fusion Science & Ion Beam Technology Program and an active researcher in the field, has been involved with this community since the inception of this IAEA project back in 2016 and was asked to organize the in-person workshop. Originally intended for June 2020, the meeting had to be delayed by nearly two years due to the pandemic. It was held as a hybrid event, with some attendees in the Building 71 main conference room and others online.
After an introduction and overview by Asmita Patel, ATAP Deputy Division Director for Operations, Schenkel outlined efforts in quantum information science at Berkeley Lab and UC-Berkeley, including the Advanced Quantum Testbed, the Quantum Systems Accelerator, and the Berkeley quantum network testbed. He also highlighted research frontiers and Berkeley Lab facilities that help push QIS research forward.
Tours of facilities, including the Berkeley Lab Laser Accelerator (BELLA) Center, the pulsed ion accelerator NDCX-II, and the Advanced Light Source (ALS), were featured later in the week, together with talks by scientists from UC Berkeley and Berkeley Lab that highlighted the local research context.
“The in-person meeting helped us to make new connections and to strengthen very productive ongoing collaborations,” said Schenkel, adding that he has already published several papers with collaborators he had met in the course of this IAEA coordinated research project. More than 100 papers that have come from collaborations of members in the project.
“The meeting shows that Berkeley Lab is well positioned in the worldwide community that is applying accelerators to meet the challenges of of quantum information science,” said ATAP Division Director Cameron Geddes.
“It also served as an example of how to host a productive international meeting at this stage of the pandemic,” Schenkel noted, adding, “The ATAP Operations Team put forth a really great effort to give all the delegates a quality hybrid experience in the new normal.”
A report with summaries of key results, now in preparation, will be published in book form by Taylor & Francis/CRC Press.