Among several solutions which meet the requirements for a future energy source, there is one that may hold the promise of fuel abundance and being environmentally friendly: nuclear fusion power! If only it were not so technically challenging. Nevertheless, scientists are optimistic that fusion will indeed be our ultimate source of energy, possibly even by the turn of this century. To prove this, European researchers take on the challenge of building the first fusion power plant: DEMO

Why “DEMO”?

Starting in the 1950s, and up to the moment of writing this article, enormous progress has been achieved in plasmaphysics and fusion engineering. With this accumulation of knowledge on the one hand and the ever growing demand for energy on the other, it is high time that the progress made in fusion research is gathered into a single, integrated power plant design: this is exactly the goal of DEMO, the …

„Demonstration Power Plant“

DEMO is presently in a pre-conceptual design phase. According to European and international fusion experts, DEMO is the milestone that separates fusion from being merely a topic of concern primarily of interest to research laboratories, to the wider, more public scope of interest. DEMO will be the preparatory step for generating fusion electricity for the benefit of society. Indeed, many of the countries involved in fusion research already have their own programme for DEMO. Very recently, at the 2016 SOFT symposium held in Prague: Japan, China, and the EU, together representing a sizable portion of the global fusion community, reported on their own active DEMO programmes, reflected in several talks and posters presented at the conference. Those nations are focusing their resources and man power into aggressive research for building the first test fusion plant. They aim to demonstrate the potential of fusion as a sustainable power source. Indeed, these activities are independent from the countries contributions to ITER, thus emphasising DEMO‘s cornerstone role in the global fusion research map.

Model of DEMO, the first experimental fusion power plant. Illustration: EUROfusion

Model of DEMO, the first experimental fusion power plant. Illustration: EUROfusion

Challenges Facing DEMO

DEMO is the single device that will mark the transition of fusion from a predominantly research phase to a commercial, power production phase. Although DEMO is not meant to be a power plant, it should demonstrate that fusion electricity can be exploited commercially in a future power plant. DEMO’s success, however, depends on overcoming numerous technical challenges: most importantly, finding adequate heat exhaust solutions, developing of materials capable of meeting functional expectations in the harsh fusion environment, and the ability to run the machine for a sufficiently long time in order to achieve feasible power production.

DEMO – A Challenging Puzzle

Thomas Franke from the EUROfusion Programme Management Unit in Garching puts these challenges into perspective: “DEMO is complex, in the sense that we want to integrate, into one device, several technologies which often have conflicting requirements. It is like a puzzle. The challenge is thus to bring these many technological pieces together in a functional way.”

Why DEMO Matters

The need for a sustainable energy source that meets the growth challenges of the 21st century is undebatable. Whether this will be fusion depends on the success of the involved scientists and engineers when it comes to conquering the numerous technical challenges faced. If DEMO proves successful, then we can finally get some rest, in the sense that we may have eventually obtained our eternal quest for a clean and abundant energy power plant. That’s one important reason why the public should support fusion research.

I am a researcher at IPP working on the design of heating and current drive systems (ICRF) for fusion plants (i.e. DEMO). Fusion is quite a challenging, yet exciting, technological endeavour for a young engineer to pursue, and I feel privileged to be able to take part. I come from Jordan, where I did my bachelor’s studies, then moved to France and Canada for grad school. Following graduation, I started a career in academia at the UAE, before moving to Germany to help in the worldwide efforts towards the realisation of fusion as a power source.

Amro Bader (27) from Jordan is currently based at: Garching/Munich, Germany. (Picture: private)