Funding Aimed at Fusion Energy Awarded to the Laboratory for Laser Energetics–Sandia National Laboratories CollaborationJune, 2015
The Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) has announced a two-year, $3.8 million award for Sandia National Laboratories and the University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics to study the potential of combining two different technologies to further advance their research efforts to produce controlled fusion reactions.
LLE’s OMEGA laser, funded and operated as a national user facility with more diagnostics than Z’s Beamlet laser, is expected to greatly speed the work. “OMEGA can fire 12 times per day and can also provide better diagnostic access,” said Jonathan Davies, a research scientist and leader of the effort at LLE. “The ARPA-E project will bring together the resources of Sandia and LLE to work on the same project—the coupling of laser energy and fusion fuel—with completely different techniques.”
“These experiments allow us to study MagLIF at a much smaller size and at a faster rate than on Z,” said Davies. “If the small-scale MagLIF experiments are successful and accurately modeled, we will have demonstrated magneto-inertial fusion principles over a very broad range of energy, space, and time scales.”
This information will help accelerate the development of the MagLIF concept as part of ARPA-E’s ALPHA (accelerating low-cost plasma heating and assembly) program portfolio. The ALPHA program funds the development of the tools to build foundations for new pathways toward fusion power. ALPHA is focused on approaches that exploit magnetic fields to reduce energy losses in the intermediate-ion-density regime between lower-density magnetic confinement fusion (MCF) and higher-density inertial confinement fusion (ICF). This intermediate-density regime is not as well explored as the more-mature MCF and ICF approaches, and it may offer new opportunities for fusion reactors with energy and power requirements that are compatible with low-cost technologies.
“It should easily be possible to do more than 200 laser experiments a year split among the Z-Beamlet, OMEGA, and OMEGA EP facilities, in contrast to the two dozen or so integrated MagLIF experiments a year realistically possible on Z,” Sinars said.
The work will take place on several parallel tracks: performing scaled-down MagLIF experiments at the LLE Omega Laser Facility; improving performance of full-scale MagLIF experiments on Z through optimized laser preheating and improved axial magnetic-field hardware; and validating simulations against experiments.
Other laser experiments will include changing the beam’s intensity, its distance to the liner’s entry port, and the size of the liner hole through which the beam must pass. If the beam entrance hole is too small, not enough energy reaches the target; if the entrance hole is too large, too much energy escapes. When optimized, the process should allow fusion reactions to occur at 1% to 2% of the density and pressure required in traditional ICF implosions.