MIT expands research collaboration with Commonwealth Fusion Systems to build net-energy fusion machine, SPARC


MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC) will significantly expand its fusion energy research and education under a new five-year agreement with the Institute’s spin-off company Commonwealth fusion systems (CFS).

“This expanded relationship places MIT and PSFC in a unique position to be an even stronger academic leader who can help meet the research and education needs of the burgeoning fusion power industry, in part by using the world’s first net energy plasma fusion machine, SPARC“, explains Dennis Whyte, director of the PSFC. “CFS will build SPARC and develop a commercial fusion product, while MIT PSFC will focus on its core mission of cutting-edge research and education.”

Commercial fusion energy has the potential to play an important role in the fight against climate change, and there is a simultaneous increase in interest from the energy industry, governments and foundations. The new agreement, administered by the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI), of which CFS is a start-up member, will help PSFC expand its fusion technology efforts with a wider variety of sponsors. The collaboration enables rapid execution at scale and transfer of technology to the commercial sector as soon as possible.

This new agreement doubles CFS’ financial commitment to PSFC, allowing for increased recruitment and support of students, staff and faculty. “We will significantly increase the number of graduate students and postdocs, and just as importantly, they will work on a more diverse set of topics related to fusion science and technology,” notes Whyte. It extends the collaboration between PSFC and CFS that has resulted in many advances towards fusion power plants, including that of last fall expression of a high-temperature superconducting (HTS) fusion electromagnet with a record field strength of 20 tesla.

The combined magnetic fusion efforts at the PSFC will exceed those in place during operations of the pioneering Alcator C-Mod tokamak device which operated from 1993 to 2016. This increase in activity reflects a time when several fusion power technologies are experiencing a rapid acceleration of development worldwide, and the emergence of a new fusion energy industry that would require thousands of trained people.

MITEI Director Robert Armstrong adds, “Our goal from the beginning was to create a membership model that would allow startups that have specific research challenges to take advantage of the MITEI ecosystem, including professors from MIT, students and other members of MITEI. The PSFC and MITEI team have worked seamlessly to support CFS, and we are excited about this next phase of the relationship.

PSFC is supporting CFS’ efforts to realize the SPARC fusion platform, which facilitates the rapid development and refinement of the elements (including HTS magnets) needed to build ARC, a compact, modular, high-field fusion power plant that would pave the way for commercial fusion power generation. The concepts are from Whyte’s nuclear science and engineering class 22.63 (Principles of Fusion Engineering) and were championed by PSFC students and staff, many of whom helped found CFS; the new activity will broaden research into advanced technologies for the planned pilot plant.

“It was an incredibly effective collaboration that resulted in a major breakthrough for commercial fusion with the successful demonstration of breakthrough fusion magnet technology that will enable the world’s first commercially relevant net energy fusion device, SPARC, currently under construction,” said Bob Mumgaard. SM ’15, PhD ’15, CEO of Commonwealth Fusion Systems. “We look forward to this next phase of the collaboration with MIT as we address the critical research challenges ahead for the next steps towards the development of fusion power plants.”

In the push towards commercial fusion power, the next five years are critical, requiring intensive work on material longevity, heat transfer, fuel recycling, maintenance and other crucial aspects of plant development. electrical. It will need innovation in almost every engineering discipline. “Having great teams working now will reduce the time it takes to go from SPARC to ARC and really unleash creativity. And what MIT does so well is it cuts across all disciplines,” says Whyte.

“To tackle the climate crisis, the world must deploy existing clean energy solutions as widely and as quickly as possible, while developing new technologies – and our goal is for these new technologies to include fusion energy” , says Maria T. Zuber, MIT’s vice president for research. “To make new climate solutions a reality, we need focused and sustained collaborations like the one between MIT and Commonwealth Fusion Systems. Delivering fusion power to the grid is a monumental challenge, and the combined capabilities of these two organizations is what the challenge demands. »

Strategically, climate change and the imperative need for widely implementable carbon-free energy helped steer the PSFC team toward scalability. “Building one or 10 smelters makes no difference – we need to build thousands,” says Whyte. “The design decisions we make will impact the ability to do this later. The real enemy here is time, and we want to remove as many barriers as possible and commit to funding a new generation of scientific leaders. These are critically important in a field with as much interdisciplinary integration as fusion.

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