Two researchers at a table examine a circuit board

Researchers discuss experimental validation of a thermal balance model to identify a safe operational boundary for a fusion energy superconductor.

The controlled production of energy through fusion, the nuclear process at the heart of stars such as our sun, has been a dream of humanity for many decades.  Developing the requisite science and technology is a central goal of the DOE Office of Fusion Energy Sciences (FES).

One of the most promising routes to energy production involves magnetically confined plasmas, exemplified by concepts such as the tokamak and the stellarator—magnetic configurations that suspend the plasmas in space. This is a critical requirement, as no known material could withstand the temperatures needed for deuterium-tritium fusion, which are on the order of 150 million degrees.

Researcher working with a winding of shiny coppery cable

The use of HTS for fusion benefits from a “toolbox” of cable architectures that are scalable and tailored to magnet needs; SMP infrastructure and expertise are being applied to explore novel concepts, like this conductor-on-round-core (CORC) cable.

The fusion of these two hydrogen isotopes releases energy in the form of helium nuclei, along with high-energy neutrons. Capturing the neutrons results in heat that can be absorbed and converted to electricity with a conventional thermal power plant.

Powerful magnetic fields are essential to magnetically confined fusion.  Superconducting magnets can achieve far higher fields, but traditional superconductors operate at liquid-helium temperatures, which poses obvious problems in a device whose central purpose is to give off heat. Developing high-temperature superconductors (HTS), particularly the growing commercialization of rare-earth barium copper oxide (REBCO) tape, has rejuvenated the field.  Several start-up companies are leveraging the opportunity to progress rapidly toward commercial fusion energy.

SMP supports FES and this nascent private-sector fusion industry by applying HTS superconductor and superconducting magnet expertise to fusion needs. Our research is coordinated through FES and leverages public-private partnerships to support US industry in this extraordinary endeavor.