PPPL and Oak Ridge manage new DOE program designed to speed development of fusion energy

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has launched an ambitious new program to encourage public-private partnerships to speed the development on Earth of the fusion energy that powers the sun and most stars. The DOE’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, home of the US ITER Project Office, will manage the program, with PPPL physicist Ahmed Diallo serving as deputy director and Oak Ridge fusion engineer Dennis Youchison serving as director.

The program, called the Innovation Network for Fusion Energy (INFUSE), an Office of Fusion Energy Sciences (FES) initiative, will facilitate collaborations between industry and the DOE national laboratory complex with its fusion energy facilities. “Industry will tap the core competencies of national labs to enable new or advanced fusion technologies toward realization,” Diallo said of the program. “We will publicly announce the solicitation with FES, develop and maintain the submission website, and organize and conduct merit reviews,” he added. “FES will make the award decisions and we will usher through the Cooperative Research and Development Agreement for each partnership.”

Proposals will be due July 7 with award notifications expected August 10. Recipients will receive between $50,000 and $200,000 apiece, with industry partners providing 20 percent of the overall cost of each project. The period of performance for accepted projects will be 12 months.

Enabling technologies

The initiative will address enabling technologies such as new and improved magnets, plasma diagnostics, and modeling and simulation codes for fusion energy processes. For example, a company might want to use an advanced computer code that a laboratory could adapt to the company’s needs, Diallo said. Or a commercial firm might use laboratory facilities to test material, necessary for the realization of fusion energy, that the firm is developing.

The innovative program “is really important for the laboratories and the private companies that are attempting to develop fusion power and make it commercially available,” said Mike Zarnstorff, PPPL laboratory chief scientist. “This type of program is very common in other parts of the DOE and is a sign of our success in maturing our understanding of fusion energy and the recognition of its potential impact on society.”

The new collaborations could accelerate progress toward developing fusion as a safe, clean, and abundant source of energy for generating electricity. “We believe there is a real potential for synergy between industry- and government-sponsored research efforts in fusion,” said James Van Dam, DOE Associate Director of Science for Fusion Energy Sciences. “This innovative program will advance progress toward fusion energy by drawing on the combined expertise of researchers from both sectors.”

“Focus current research”

For Youchison at Oak Ridge, “INFUSE will help focus current research. Multiple private companies in the United States are pursuing fusion energy systems, and we want to contribute scientific solutions that help make fusion a reality.” Moreover, he said, “We have unique capabilities not found in the private sector, and this program will help lower barriers to collaboration and move fusion energy forward.”

Joining Oak Ridge and PPPL in the new program are the Pacific Northwest, Idaho, Brookhaven, Lawrence Berkeley, Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories. Their scientists, engineers, and specialized facilities will be available along with those at PPPL and Oak Ridge for collaboration with private industry.

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