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Department of Energy Announces $32 Million for Lower-Cost Fusion Concepts

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Department of Energy today announced the winners of $32 million in funding for 15 projects as part of the Breakthroughs Enabling THermonuclear-fusion Energy (BETHE) program. These projects will work to develop timely, commercially viable fusion energy, with the goal to increase the number and performance levels of lower-cost fusion concepts. 

“Fusion energy technology holds great potential to be a safe, clean, reliable energy source, but research and development of fusion technology is often constrained by prohibitive costs,” said Under Secretary of Energy Mark W. Menezes. “BETHE teams will build on recent progress in fusion research and the growing fusion community to lower costs and further foster viable commercial opportunities for the next generation of fusion technology.” 

“These BETHE projects further advance ARPA-E’s commitment to the development of fusion energy as a cost-competitive, viable, energy generation source,” said ARPA-E Director Lane Genatowski. “Commercially viable fusion energy can improve our chances of meeting global energy demand and will further establish U.S. technological lead in this crucial area.”

BETHE projects will work to deliver higher-maturity, lower-cost fusion options via three research categories: (1) Concept Development to advance the performance of inherently lower-cost but less-mature fusion concepts; (2) Component Technology Development that could significantly reduce the capital cost of higher-cost, more-mature fusion concepts; and (3) Capability Teams to improve/adapt and apply existing capabilities (including theory/modeling, machine learning, and diagnostics) to accelerate the development of multiple concepts. BETHE projects will address one of these categories.

Commercial fusion technology has long been viewed as an ideal energy source.  However, there remains a need to lower the costs of fusion development and accelerate its development timeline to have appreciable impact. If a grid-ready fusion demonstration can be realized within approximately 20 years, while achieving cost competitiveness, then fusion can contribute to meeting low-carbon energy demand and achieving cost-effective deep decarbonization in the latter half of the 21st century. 

BETHE projects address these needs by building on Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy’s (ARPA-E) first focused fusion program, ALPHA, to grow the number of privately funded fusion companies.  BETHE teams will pursue additional approaches that reduce cost, unit size, and complexity of fusion systems, while also smoothing the path to fusion commercialization to include public, private, and philanthropic partnerships with the BETHE teams.

A sampling of winning BETHE projects can be found below; for the full list of projects click here.  

University of Wisconsin-Madison – Madison, WI

An HTS Axisymmetric Magnetic Mirror on a Faster Path to Lower Cost Fusion Energy - $5,000,000

The Wisconsin High-field Axisymmetric Mirror (WHAM) project at the University of Wisconsin-Madison will leverage advances in the stability and confinement of the mirror fusion concept, innovative plasma heating, and high-field superconducting magnets to demonstrate a potentially transformative development path toward a low-cost linear fusion device. The project aims to demonstrate a novel “end cell” that confines stable, heated plasmas with electron temperatures exceeding 1 keV and a fusion triple product exceeding 1018 keV s/m3. Success in this project would justify follow-on pursuit of the low-cost Break-Even Axisymmetric Tandem (BEAT) device, which would use two of the end cells at either end of a longer central mirror cell to reach breakeven conditions.

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University – Blacksburg, VA

Capability in Theory, Modeling, and Validation for a Range of Innovative Fusion Concepts Using High-Fidelity Moment-Kinetic Models - $2,400,000

Virginia Tech and PPPL will apply a versatile set of computational plasma modeling capabilities to better understand and advance the performance of lower-cost fusion concepts. This Capability Team will use fluid and reduced kinetic models to achieve this goal, including building on its existing open-source simulation technology, Gkeyll, and a multi-phase, incompressible magnetohydrodynamic model to study liquid-metal wall dynamics in the presence of fusion plasma. The team will perform high-fidelity kinetic plasma simulations that can also account for complex plasma-wall interactions, to support the development of multiple lower-cost concepts.