The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, led by NPRE research assistant professor Daniel Andruczyk, is part of a group tasked with advancing plasma science in a direction that has not been attempted before.
A three-year grant from the Office of Fusion Energy Sciences will fund the initiative, with the goal of creating a working liquid metal divertor for a fusion reactor.
“We know a lot about liquid lithium, but there’s still a lot we don’t know,” Andruczyk said. “It’s still a pretty open field. It’s great that it’s been recognized that if fusion reactors are going to happen, then we need to go down this path of using liquid metals.”
Inside fusion reactors, there can be large heat fluctuations and instabilities. The divertor basically acts as an exhaust element of the reactor, removing impurities and waste products in the fusion process. The University’s team will coordinate with the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and Oak Ridge National laboratory on the project.
Other institutions, such as the University of California, Los Angeles, will be subcontracted to perform different tasks, but the three main institutions will head the project.
Princeton and Oak Ridge will be leading the design phase, and University researchers, led by Andruczyk, will be running the testing. The total funding for the grant is $3 million, with the University of Illinois receiving $750,000.
Andruczyk said that in this project, “the University is at the same level as two national labs. That speaks volumes for the University and the group. We’ve got the people and expertise to do this.”
Despite the current pandemic and the inability to get into the lab to run experiments, Andruczyk’s group—which also includes associate professor Davide Curreli and NPRE students—is still able to start developing a computer model to help predict and plan future experiments as well as analyzing past results from a collaboration with China. These should help get some of the initial results needed for the collaboration.
“We can’t get into the lab right now to run experiments,” Andruczyk said. However, he added “We do have a plan where we were going to use the facilities at a lab in the Netherlands, which we may be able to do remotely. We have a plan going forward.”