2023 FIA Report Released

Cover of 2023 FIA report titled, "The Global Fusion Industry in 2023"
Cover of 2023 FIA report.

The Fusion Industry Association (FIA), of which LPS is a member, released its third annual fusion industry report on July 13 titled, The Global Fusion Industry in 2023, In it, they unveiled “worldwide findings from an electrifying year of fusion development. Forty-three private fusion companies were surveyed for the report, ranging from fusion industry giants to new entrants with bold visions, committed to addressing the challenges that remain ahead for commercialization.” Below is the summary of highlights, or you can download the full report here.

  • Thirteen fusion companies were founded or emerged from stealth mode in the past year, making this year’s fusion industry survey, with 44 entrants, the largest ever.
  • The US continues to lead the race with 25 active fusion companies (including many of the largest), but the industry is becoming more geographically diverse, with 12 countries now fielding at least one fusion company. This year’s survey included new entrants from New Zealand (Openstar), Sweden (Novatron), Germany (Gauss, Proxima), and China (Energy Singularity).
  • While the total new funding announced this year is less than last year’s $2.8bn, it shows continued investment in and excitement about the industry, even as many technology investors have pulled back in other fields.
  • This year saw a much wider range of smaller “Seed” or “Series A” investments, with 27 companies in a variety of technologies announcing funding.
  • Meanwhile, companies who had previously secured funding are growing. Respondents claimed to have created 975 new jobs in the last year at their companies, and around 3,000 jobs in the supply chain, though this is likely to be an undercount as not all companies responded to this question.
  • Optimism about timing remains high. Four companies believe they will deliCoverver fusion power to the grid by 2030, and 19 by 2035.
  • But challenges remain. Almost every company still thinks funding is a challenge, as plenty more money will still be needed to solve the remaining science and engineering challenge and reach commercial viability.
    Beyond private investment, it is also notable that we are seeing an increase in public-private partnerships, with 18 companies involved in public-private partnerships valued at over $70 million.

Joshua Luoma received DOE Fellowship

Jason Luoma

Ph.D. student Joshua Luoma has been awarded the Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration Laboratory Residency Graduate Fellowship (DOE NNSA LRGF). The fellowship, which launched in 2017, is awarded to students pursuing a Ph.D. in a field of study that addresses complex, advanced science and engineering problems critical to stewardship science, and the fellowship provides up to four years of support. The DOE NNSA LRGF “connects professors and students with laboratory scientists, fostering collaborative research relationships. The program strengthens these university-laboratory links through an unusual and exciting provision: fellows will work and study in residence at one or more of four approved DOE NNSA facilities for a minimum of two 12-week periods. This residency requirement opens compelling research opportunities to students and their advisors, including access to unique DOE NNSA experimental and computing facilities.”

Luoma was awarded the fellowship for his proposal on structured laser targets for advanced radiation sources, and he will be working with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to collaborate on this project.

For more information about the program, visit the DOE NNSA LRGF website.

Congratulations Dr. Jacob Banasek

Jacob earned his bachelor’s degree in engineering physics from Wright State University in 2013.  After graduation, he attend Cornell University and joined the Laboratory of Plasma Studies, where he spent most of his time developing various plasma diagnostics.  Now that he has defended his Thesis, “Development of a Thomson Scattering Diagnostic on a Pulsed Power Machine and its use in Studying Laboratory Plasma Jets Focusing on the Effect of Current Polarity”, he is continuing as a postdoc in the lab before starting as a postdoc at UCSD in 2020.

Jay Angel, Chiatai Chen and Tommy Hentschel attend HEDS Summer School 2019

July 28 – August 10, 2019

UC San Diego campus, La Jolla, CA

This 2-week summer school will promote scholastic development through technical lectures given by field experts as well as professional development sessions aimed at early-career researchers in HEDS fields of study.

The summer school is jointly organized by the by the Center for Frontiers in High Energy Density Science and the new NNSA Center for Excellence: Center for Matter Under Extreme Conditions.

Tommy Hentschel interns at Sandia National Lab – Summer 2019

Sandia National Laboratory

Working with Dr. Stephanie Hansen at Sandia National Labs computing dielectric functions and stopping numbers for materials and plasmas that have high temperatures but that are dense enough that quantum mechanics must be considered in the interactions between electrons. Stopping numbers are useful quantities because they can tell us how particles lose energy as they travel through these plasmas. Dielectric functions are important because you can calculate the so-called dynamic structure factor of these warm, dense materials from them. The structure factor can be measured by Thomson scattering, which is one of the experimental probes used at LPS. This provides a nice link between the theory I am doing and the experiments performed at Cornell.

Jason Hamilton interns at LLNL Summer 2019

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Jason Hamilton is interning at Lawrence Livermore National Lab this summer. He is working a project entitled, “Demonstrating heat transport with Perseus and comparing the higher-moment formulation to the results of various codes used at LLNL.”

David A. Hammer wins 2018 Distinguished Career Award

David Hammer has been awarded the  2018 Distinguished Career Award. by Fusion Power Associates. According to the notification Professor Hammer received from Steven O. Dean, President of Fusion Power Associates, Distinguished Career Awards were established in 1987 to recognize individuals who have made distinguished lifelong career contributions to fusion development. A list of previous recipients is posted on the Fusion Power Associates web site: http://fusionpower.org The Board has recognized Dave’s “many years of dedication to plasma science and its applications in many fields and to advancing the prospects for fusion power. The Board especially notes [his] decades of outstanding career contributions to the field of pulsed power, the science of high energy density plasma and its applications, and [his] role as an educator of a generation of younger scientists, upon whose shoulders the future of plasma science and fusion depends”. They presented this award to him at the Fusion Power Associates 39th annual meeting and symposium, Fusion Energy: Strategies and Expectations through the 2020’s, at the Grand Hyatt Washington Hotel, on December 4-5, 2019 in Washington, DC.

Finding the Ultimate Energy Source: Cornell’s Lab of Plasma Studies

 Original story from Cornell Research: https://research.cornell.edu/content/lab-plasma-studies 

Plasma is one of the four fundamental states of matter, but it does not exist freely on the Earth’s surface. It must be artificially generated by heating or subjecting a neutral gas to a strong electromagnetic field. Located in the basement of Grumman Hall are two large pulse-power generators that create plasma by delivering extremely high currents to ordinary matter for short periods. These generators are part of the Lab of Plasma Studies at Cornell University.

The lab has studied different aspect of plasma since its inception in 1967, including electron beams, microwave generation, ion beams, and Z-pinches (in which an electric current produces a magnetic field that compresses the plasma). High-energy dense plasma research is commonly associated with nuclear weapons, as well as space and astrophysics, controlled fusion, accelerator physics, and beam storage. The mission of the lab is to understand the fundamental physics underlying plasma. The ultimate research goal is to discover a means to generate a new form of energy: a controlled fusion system that produces nuclear reactions similar to those happening at the center of the sun, but safe to harness for energy production on earth.

The work carried out in the Lab of Plasma Studies is supported by the Unites States Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Stewardship Sciences Academic Programs. An important endeavor of the lab is to train new generations of plasma research scientists. Undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral associates, visiting scientists, and visiting professors are active contributors. The lab’s stewardship efforts have been successful, with many scientists in pulse-power programs around the country, hailing from Cornell.

“In the College of Engineering things have been getting very small, think nanoscale. Our lab is the opposite of that. We have very large machines that enable students to handle large-scale equipment that produce large powers. It is a different scale of operation, and it provides a category of projects that are mostly not provided within the academic programs at Cornell,” says David Hammer, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and a faculty member in the lab. “It’s a big operation,” says Bruce Kusse, Applied and Engineering Physics, another faculty member in the lab. “Cornell has invested a great deal into the lab over the last 50 years, and it’s paid off. The national labs that study plasma, like the Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, often come to us when they need something studied quickly and efficiently.”

Lab of Plasma Studies turns 50, wins $15M grant


Cornell’s Laboratory of Plasma Studies (LPS) has much to celebrate as it marks its 50th anniversary with a two-day symposium, Oct. 6-7, and begins another five years of unlocking the secrets of plasma with a $15 million grant from the National Nuclear Security Administration.

Since its inception in 1967, the lab has used powerful bursts of energy to create and study plasma – a state of matter in which atoms are ionized and their electrons become free. Operating in the High Voltage Laboratory on Ithaca’s Mitchell Street before moving into the basement of Upson Hall and then Grumman Hall, LPS was one of the world’s first high-energy-density plasma labs based at a university and has kept Cornell at the forefront of plasma science through the years.

Many of the physicists and engineers who made discoveries there will return to campus for the symposium, which will feature 40 alumni speaking in Clark Hall about how their time at LPS influenced their careers in academia, government and industry.

“We’ve populated the pulse-powered programs of the country more than anyone else,” said David Hammer, LPS co-director and professor of electrical and computer engineering. He was a graduate student when the lab was founded and says most experiments throughout the lab’s history have been centered around technologies that store energy in capacitors and deliver it quickly through powerful pulses of current.

“These machines have been used to extract a number of directed energy sources from plasma. It started out with electron beams when the lab was founded, then it became microwave generation, and then ion beams. Now, Z-pinches make up a large percentage of our work,” said Hammer.

Bruce Kusse, LPS co-director and professor of applied and engineering physics, joined the lab as a research associate shortly after it was founded and still remembers its first machine, scrapped together by researchers for electron beam extraction.

“It was made partially with plywood, epoxy and plastic,” said Kusse, noting that being on the forefront of plasma science means LPS has always had to customize its equipment.

Today, the lab boasts its own machine shop; researchers produce parts they need for two world-class, pulsed-power machines and state-of-the-art diagnostic tools. Both machines produce energy pulses lasting 100 to 200 nanoseconds, one at a half-million amperes and the other at 1 million amperes. The machines produce Z-pinches, in which electric currents produce a magnetic field that compresses the plasma, giving it new properties that scientists are still working to fully comprehend.

“Out of this plasma come very intense X-ray bursts. The only way to make a more intense burst is with a bigger pulsed-power machine, a laser system that costs 10 to 100 times as much as ours, or with a nuclear explosion,” said Kusse. “The other thing that happens in our experiments is the creation of conditions approaching those required for inertial fusion.”

A major contribution of LPS to science has been diagnostic tools it’s developed to characterize high-energy-density plasma, which is highly unstable. “There’s myriad instabilities that are studied with these diagnostics, helping us to understand the physics behind these instabilities and how you can mitigate them,” said Kusse.

Scientists hope that a better understanding of the fundamental physics underlying plasma, X-ray busts and inertial fusion conditions will eventually lead to the holy grail of energy research: a controlled fusion system that produces nuclear reactions similar to those happening at the center of the sun, but safely harnesses the reactions for energy production.

It’s one of the concepts that has driven LPS research since its beginning, one researchers will continue to explore thanks to a $15 million, five-year grant taking effect Oct. 1. The funding enables LPS’s Multi-University Center of Excellence for Pulsed-Power-Driven High-Energy-Density Science to advance its research program in collaboration with scientists from the University of California, San Diego, Imperial College (London), the Lebedev Physical Institute (Moscow), the University of Michigan, Princeton University and the Weizmann Institute of Science (Israel).

This collaborative approach to experimental, theoretical and computational high-energy-density plasma research has been at the heart of LPS for 50 years.

“Having theorists and experimentalists working together to achieve the end point of a project, it’s worked out very well for the lab,” said Hammer.

Syl Kacapyr is public relations and content manager for the College of Engineering.

Original story by Syl Kacapyr published in the Cornell Chronicle

The Laboratory of Plasma Studies: Uncovering mysteries of high energy density plasma physics

In the basement of Grumman Hall, an x-ray pulse produced by a hot, dense plasma – an ionized gas – lasting only fractions of a microsecond both begins and ends an experiment. Hidden within that fraction of time lies a piece of a puzzle—data that graduate students and staff scientists at the Laboratory of Plasma Studies (LPS) will use to better understand the mysterious physics behind inertial confinement fusion. While the high energy density research done by LPS does have other applications, fusion brings most of the students into this research field.

Founded in 1967 the first ten years of the lab were focused on relativistic electron beam experiments, including high power microwave generation. Intense ion beam experiments were added in the late 1970s. In the late 1980s, LPS began working on pinch plasmas, gradually experimenting with exploding wires, multiple wire arrays and other forms of z-pinch experiments. Many of these experiments continue today, with applications including intense x-ray sources and inertial fusion.

“All of the work at LPS is now with one form or another of 500,000 to 1-million ampere current-driven plasmas called z-pinches,” said David Hammer, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Undergraduate, M.Eng and Ph.D. students all run experiments using the lab’s two pulse-power machines, both instrumented with diagnostics, including x-ray, extreme ultraviolet and visible light diagnostics. Lasers are used to take images and make measurements.

COBRA, the 1-million ampere pulsed-power machine, is two stories tall and so heavy it had to be constructed on solid bedrock. It is completely custom, so if something goes wrong, group members must sit down with their technicians and machinists to find a way to fix it sometimes by making a special-purpose tool or building a replacement piece of hardware, sometimes in a matter of minutes.

Current is pushed through the machine at enormous rates, but for an incredibly short time. “We’re working on z-pinch experiments where a large z-directed current is driven to the extent that things don’t explode anymore—they start to explode and then they implode from the magnetic forces,” said Bruce Kusse, Professor of Applied and Engineering Physics. “That squeezing down produces the high energy density plasmas similar to inertial fusion plasmas and plasmas that make a lot of x-rays.”

These z-pinch plasmas are wildly unstable and only squeeze or pinch in small areas and for very short times. The group is continually working on ways to find more stable, longer pinches.

“These are all short pulse experiments,” said Hammer. “Inertial confinement fusion requires a pulse only billionths of a second long, so you can see results only on instrumentation.”

A long experiment may be two-tenths of a microsecond, and the x-ray pulse produced by a pinch lasts only 20- or 30-millionths of a microsecond. Experiments themselves seem to take no time at all and information is available almost instantaneously. But it can require a significant amount of time to figure out what it all means.

“We can make these plasmas but they exist for such a short amount of time, that it’s really hard to get in there and figure out exactly what is going on. And so that’s what we’re working on,” said Sophia Rocco, a second-year Ph.D. student with LPS.

“While intense x-rays for nuclear weapon effect simulation kept plasma programs going for decades, at the back of everyone’s mind, including a large fraction of the students we’ve educated here at Cornell, is fusion,” said Hammer. “Many people want to contribute to the achievement of that great engineering challenge. That is what motivates many of the students. Others come just because it is intellectually interesting.”

Intellectually interesting, indeed. The lab is currently looking further into the physics behind how high energy density plasmas are formed and why they are so unstable. Over the past 50 years, they have uncovered many questions still in need of answers. They have also amassed a trove of diagnostics to help discover the answers, enough to keep them very busy for some time. The lab is now working on utilizing these diagnostics to understand the z-pinch plasmas they’re producing so they can compare the results with theoretical models and use them to validate their computer simulations.

“By looking at the fundamental physics of high energy density plasmas, we hope we can contribute to the practicalities that will eventually lead to inertial confinement fusion,” said Hammer.

There are many other things that plasmas could be useful for as well, ranging from plasma medicine and sanitization, all the way up to accelerating relativistic particles and understanding the mysteries of the universe.

“The fact is most of the universe is not in the form of solid matter. Instead it is in the form of plasma or some form that we cannot see,” said Hammer. “We understand a good deal of what we’re looking at in our experiments, but there is so much more to uncover. So many things have yet to be explored in the universe of plasmas. We have a field that’s going to be around for a long time.”

Original story from the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Cornell University