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New DOE program connects fusion companies with national labs, taps ORNL to lead

Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Dennis Youchison is the director of the Department of Energy’s Innovation Network for Fusion Energy program. Youchison is a fusion engineer with extensive experience in plasma facing components. Credit: Carlos Jones/Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Dept. of Energy

The Department of Energy has established the Innovation Network for Fusion Energy program, or INFUSE, to encourage private-public research partnerships for overcoming challenges in fusion energy development.

The program, sponsored by the Office of Fusion Energy Sciences (FES) within DOE’s Office of Science, focuses on accelerating fusion energy development through research collaborations between industry and DOE’s national laboratory complex with its scientific expertise and facilities. The program is currently soliciting proposals and plans to select a number of projects for awards between $50,000 and $200,000 each, with a 20 percent project cost share for industry partners.

“We believe there is a real potential for synergy between industry- and government-sponsored research efforts in fusion,” said James Van Dam, DOE Associate Director of Science for Fusion Energy Sciences.  “This innovative program will advance progress toward fusion energy by drawing on the combined expertise of researchers from both sectors.”

The Innovation Network for Fusion Energy program, or INFUSE, is sponsored by the Office of Fusion Energy Sciences within the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. The program is focused on accelerating fusion energy development through research collaborations between industry and DOE’s national laboratory complex. Credit: Adam Malin/Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Dept. of Energy

DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) will manage the new program with Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL). ORNL’s Dennis Youchison, a fusion engineer with extensive experience in plasma facing components, will serve as the director, and PPPL’s Ahmed Diallo, a physicist with expertise in laser diagnostics, will serve as deputy director.

“I am excited about the potential of INFUSE and believe this step will instill a new vitality to the entire fusion community,” Youchison said. “With growing interest in developing cost-effective sources of fusion energy, INFUSE will help focus current research. Multiple private companies in the United States are pursuing fusion energy systems, and we want to contribute scientific solutions that help make fusion a reality.”

Through INFUSE, companies can gain access to DOE’s world-leading facilities and researchers for tackling basic research challenges in developing fusion energy systems.

INFUSE will help address enabling technologies, such as new and improved magnets; materials science, including engineered materials, testing and qualification; plasma diagnostic development; modeling and simulation; and magnetic fusion experimental capabilities.

“These are core competencies across our national laboratories and areas where industry needs support,” Youchison said. “We have unique capabilities not found in the private sector, and this program will help lower barriers to collaboration and move fusion energy forward.”

ORNL’s program management leverages its long-standing leadership in fusion science. The lab is home to the US ITER Project Office and employs scientists and engineers with expertise in plasma experimentation, blanket and fuel cycle research, materials development and computer modeling of fusion systems. ORNL is also home to key facilities for the development of fueling and disruption mitigation solutions.

“When you look at nuclear science as a whole, ORNL has been a global leader for more than 75 years. Today, we have a site that allows for new and groundbreaking nuclear fusion experiments and resources that are not found anywhere else in the world,” Youchison said. “We can deliver impactful research to help in the pursuit of fusion energy deployment.”

ORNL and PPPL are joined by Pacific Northwest, Idaho, Brookhaven, Lawrence Berkeley, Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories as participants in the INFUSE program. Proposal submissions are due June 30, and award notifications are expected August 10.

UT-Battelle LLC manages ORNL for DOE’s Office of Science. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit https://energy.gov/science.