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Small, modular & economically attractive fusion enabled by high-field superconductors

Dr. Dennis Whyte

MIT Plasma Science & Fusion Center

Mon, 03/18/2019 - 4:00pm to 5:00pm
3105 Etcheverry Hall

The origin, development and new opportunities of an accelerated strategy for magnetic fusion energy based on the high-field approach are developed. This approach confinement devices are designed at the maximum possible value of vacuum magnetic field strength, B. The integrated electrical, mechanical and cooling engineering challenges of high-field large-bore electromagnets are described. These engineering challenges are confronted because of the profound science advantages provided by high-B: high fusion power density, ~B4, in compact devices, thermonuclear plasmas with significant stability margin, and, in tokamaks, access to higher plasma density. Two distinct magnetic fusion strategies were previously allowed: either compact, cryogenically-cooled copper devices with Bcoil>20 T, orlarge-volume, Nb3Sn superconductor device with Bcoil < 12 T. The second path was exclusively chosen ca. 2000 with the ITER construction decision. Yet since that decision, a new opportunity has arisen: compact, Rare Earth Barium Copper Oxide (REBCO) superconductor-based devices with Bcoil > 20 T; a strategy that essentially combines the best components of the two previous strategies. This new strategy is materialized in the recently announced SPARC project, which looks to build a highly compact net energy magnetic fusion device, solely funded by the private sector. The science and fusion energy development mission of SPARC will be described.

About the Speaker: 

A recognized leader in the field of fusion research using the magnetic confinement of plasmas
for energy production on a faster, smaller, and more innovative path. Professor Whyte is a
Fellow of the American Physical Society, has over 300 publications, and is heavily involved as an
educator. He is widely recognized for his themes of innovation and the need for speed and
economic viability in fusion. He has served on panels for the National Academies, the U.S.
government, and the Royal Society. As PSFC director he presents the center’s vision to peer
institutions and recruits faculty and scientists to the team. The core of the SPARC project was
formed over eight years ago during a design course led by Dennis to challenge assumptions in
fusion. Many of the ideas underpinning the high-field approach — including the use of HTS for
high-field, demountable magnets, liquid blankets, and ARC — have been conceived of or
significantly advanced in these courses. Dennis’s bold leadership as PSFC director and
Department Head has been a key enabler for the SPARC project, providing the stature
necessary to bring the institutional and outside support to the project.