Research in the Fusion Group
The research in the Fusion group concentrates on the control of fusion reactors and falls in three themes: sensorics, plasma surface interaction and microwave radiation, with many cross-links and branching-outs to related fields. Besides that, we operate and exploit the student-run Fusor.
In its research, the group is tightly connected to the FOM-Institute DIFFER where many of our PhD-students are working in the frame of two FOM-programs, with FOM, TNO and NRG through the ITER-NL consortium. On-site at the TU/e, we work closely together with the other three plasma groups as well as the fluid dynamics group in applied physics, and the group control systems in the mechanical engineering department. The interfaculty collaborative research is supported with a high-potential grant from the university.
The Fusion group's main research topics:
- Sensorics: developing diagnostics for use in the control of a burning fusion plasma
- Plasma Surface Interaction: theoretical and experimental research to the design and validation of plasma facing materials
- Fusor: research of the physics involved in fusion reactions using the Fusor, and study of its use as an effective neutron source
- Microwave radiation: investigation of microwave heating and potential damage of components in a fusion reactor
Sensorics concerns the development of advanced measuring technologies for fusion reactors (it is extremely challenging to measure anything in a plasma with a temperature of a few hundred million K), with the aim to use these measurements as input for a real time control system.
The measurements are based on often complex physics and can be used in a control loop, for instance to suppress unwanted turbulence, which in turn requires study of plasma turbulence and mechanisms that can suppress it.
A fusion reactor produces a lot of power that eventually must end up in a cooling fluid, which in turn is used to generate electricity. The transfer of heat from the hot plasma to the cooled material wall happens through complex processes, caught under the term Plasma Surface Interaction (PSI). The wall must be able to withstand uncannily high heat and particle fluxes without melting, eroding, cracking or absorbing the hydrogen. And all of this under a very high neutron flux.
Extreme conditions, extreme challenges.
The fusion group is looking at the use of flowing - melted – metal as a wall material, which brings together magnetohydrodynamics expertise, control (of the flow), and PSI: a highly interesting problem setting smack in the middle of one of the top-priority problems in fusion.
Our in-house fusion experiment is a so-called Fusor, in which a ball-shaped plasma is confined by electrostatic fields. Simple to build, yet it can produce plenty of fusion reactions. And although the concept has no relevance for energy production, there is a lot of interesting physics and technology involved. We want this student-run Fusor to become the best of its kind in the world!
Beams of microwave radiation are used in fusion reactors to diagnose, heat and control the plasma. However, not all of this microwave power is absorbed by the plasma. Instead, much of the radiation becomes scrambled into a more isotropic field that can reach sensitive components. Since we don't want to overheat and damage these components, our group investigates where and how much microwave heating occurs in a reactor as ITER.