Tokamak Energy to put materials through rigours of fusion conditions

The performance of speciality steel materials in extreme fusion conditions are to be tested by Tokamak Energy Inc at the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

Tokamak Energy Inc

Tokamak Energy Inc has been awarded Department of Energy funding through the Innovation Network for Fusion Energy (INFUSE) programme that will help inform the design of future power plants, including Tokamak Energy’s pilot plant ST-E1.

One of the most technically challenging components in a commercial tokamak, which utilises the hydrogen fuel combination of deuterium-tritium, is the ‘breeder blanket’.

Deuterium is abundant in sea water, but tritium is not available naturally. Tokamak Energy said fusion energy power plants will be designed to produce tritium using a breeder blanket to be self-sufficient when operating, adding that a breeder blanket will be a complex assembly.

Identifying the optimal structural material is a major challenge since it must be resilient to high temperatures and remain robust when exposed to high-energy neutrons and chemical coolants. 

In a statement, Jim Pickles, Tokamak Energy’s head of materials, said: “Fusion promises to be a transformative global source of limitless, clean energy. It is crucial that we test and develop the most resilient and suitable materials for the design of future power plants as early as possible.

“This new research using the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s world-class facilities will push our understanding forward as to the likely lifetime of materials under relevant operating conditions, as we work towards demonstrating grid-ready fusion power in the early 2030s.”

The new research set to be carried out at ORNL, Tennessee, will impact the expected preference in the fusion community for liquid lithium blankets. 

Bruce Pint, group leader Corrosion Science & Technology Group, Materials Science & Technology Division, ORNL, said: “We are excited to be using our expertise to help industry to commercialise fusion energy.”

The INFUSE programme was established in 2019 to accelerate fusion energy development through public-private research partnerships.