Digital twin to help accelerate commercial fusion

Digital twin technology is being employed by Tokamak Energy to simulate tests that will help the company’s ST40 fusion machine resume plasma operations.

Inside the ST40
Inside the ST40 - Tokamak Energy

The Oxford-based company said the ST40 will mirror experiments simulated virtually in the modelling programme SOPHIA to improve efficiency and accelerate progress on the company’s roadmap to commercialising fusion energy in the 2030s.

Tokamak Energy scientists and engineers will now get maximum gains from all experiments without needing to test multiple scenarios in the physical machine.

ST40 is the first privately owned fusion machine to reach a plasma temperature of 100 million degrees Celsius, which is the threshold for commercial fusion.

For 2024, Tokamak Energy is aiming to break the record it holds for highest triple product, an industry measure of plasma density, temperature and confinement that is a collective gauge of progress on getting fusion energy on the grid.

In a statement, Dr Mike Porton, Tokamak Energy’s chief engineer, said: “Our new tokamak simulator SOPHIA will maximise gains from experimental goals, reduce risk and help perfect plasma scenarios quicker than previously thought possible.

“Successful experiments tested virtually by SOPHIA will go forward to ST40 for real, producing measurable, publishable, verifiable, physical results to accelerate our research and development productivity.”

When deuterium and tritium are heated to form a controlled plasma at high temperatures, they fuse together to create helium and release energy which can be harnessed to produce electricity and heat. This hot plasma is confined using strong magnets in a spherical ‘tokamak’.

SOPHIA was first trialled in late 2023 to help Tokamak Energy understand and develop high-performance diverted plasma scenarios in its high field spherical tokamak.

In a diverted configuration, the magnetically confined hot gas is separated from the wall and its exhaust is directed to a dedicated divertor region that extracts heat and particles, keeping the core plasma cleaner and improving overall performance.

SOPHIA has been designed in-house at Tokamak Energy. The physics, diagnostics, actuator and control modelling programme has since been upgraded and will be fully integrated into ST40 plasma operations for 2024.

It can be programmed to run multiple simulations at once and predicted results have been proven to mirror actual experiments, ensuring ST40 tests do not breach machine limits and cause plasma disruptions.

SOPHIA is also used for team training and is expected to be developed further for future devices on the company’s roadmap to delivering commercial fusion power.

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