US Department of Energy invests $47 million in tokamak fusion research • The Register

The US Department of Energy is awarding more funding to fusion energy, this time distributing $47 million to 38 projects studying the feasibility of tokamak reactors.

Tokamaks use powerful magnetic fields to force plasma into either a bull shape or a more spherical shape, depending on the type of design used. The ultimate goal is to fuse atoms together and create more energy from this reaction than is put into the thing to make it run, so that the excess energy can be used to create electricity, for example.

Tokamaks were seen as a promising route to useful fusion, albeit one of several.

In this case, the Department of Energy is awarding money to researchers working to “fill in gaps in the scientific and technological basis for the tokamak approach to fusion energy.”

Uncle Sam doesn’t have to wait too long for results, says Harriet Kung, associate scientific director of the Department of Fusion Energy Sciences. “These activities [PDF] will make optimal use of existing tokamak facilities and enter into productive collaborations with leading fusion institutes, bringing us closer to fusion energy as a clean and abundant source of energy.”

2022: The year of fusion funding

That $47 million is a small amount of public money compared to the larger pot of money allocated to the DoE for fusion research by the Consolidated Funds Act of 2022.

The initial earmarking included a $713 million reserve for the DoE Office of Fusion Energy Sciences, a portion of which funded another $50 million award given last month to companies trying to get by the late 2030s to develop viable fusion power plants.

This overly ambitious goal does not prescribe the type of equipment that would fill a theoretical fusion power plant, leaving the door open to tokamaks as well as alternative methods such as firing tungsten bullets from deuterium fuel capsules to evoke a reaction.

Tokamaks have not yet been tested on a large scale. However, scientists in Korea have recently managed to hold plasma gas in a tokamak at 100 million degrees Kelvin for 20 seconds, an important first step towards fusion power.

“Fusion offers a potential long-term energy source that uses abundant fuel supplies and produces no greenhouse gases or long-lived radioactive waste,” the DoE argues. The Biden administration has previously said it views fusion as a potential solution to fossil fuel-driven climate change that will “empower American leadership, strengthen energy security, and enable sustainable energy independence.” ® US Department of Energy invests $47 million in tokamak fusion research • The Register

Rick Schindler

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