10 December 2012

Jacob Trier Frederiksen receives EU funding for fusion energy research

EU countries want to develop technology that can produce energy using fusion, that is to say the fusing together of atoms as opposed to fission, which is the splitting of atoms, which is used in today’s nuclear power plants. In order to research the topic, the EU has therefore given 7.5 million kroner in funding to a consortium of researchers from 16 countries, including researchers from the Niels Bohr Institute.

Being able to produce energy through fusion has been an impossible dream for many decades. A dream, because it does not require uranium or other heavy, expensive, rare or dangerous elements and because it doesn’t create dangerous nuclear waste. Impossible, because it has required more energy to fuse atoms than you get out of the process. Bad business.


A microcapsule is filled with two special hydrogen isotopes, deuterium and tritium. The fusion between the hydrogen atoms turns this little ball momentarily into a micro-star that produces energy.

Network of expertise

“The development of new technology in several different areas of experimental physics means that they are now creating a research network and linking together relevant expertise to work on the potential for fusion energy. We are taking part in this collaboration,” explains Jacob Trier Frederiksen, postdoc. research associate in Astrophysics and Planetary Science at the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen.

He conducts research in solar plasma physics and fusion is one of the processes that occur in the Sun’s glowing interior, where there is extremely hot, dense plasma. 

In one specific fusion technology, one uses a small pellet or capsule that contain two hydrogen isotopes, namely deuterium and tritium. This capsule is shot into a fusion chamber, where it is bombarded with high-powered laser from multible angles. The ultra-intense laser field compresses the capsule creating a powerful shockwave in the interior of the capsule, resulting in an extremely hot, dense plasma, and the hydrogen nuclei begin to melt together (fuse). This process releases a large amount of energy and the trick to have to supply less energy than is released Good business.

But scientifically, we don’t know exactly what is really going on inside the ball under this extreme pressure. There is extreme mass and energy density, but how it behaves under such conditions is not well understood.

Laser bombarding ball

The ball with hydrogen is bombarded with very powerful laser beams from all angles. This creates a powerful shockwave in the ball, resulting in an extremely hot, dense plasma and the hydrogen atoms begin to melt together (fuse). It is the same process as in the interior of the sun.

Same processes as in the Sun

“These are the same processes that take place in the interior of the Sun. But even more extreme conditions are created in the hydrogen capsules than in the Sun. It is more dense than the Sun’s core and it is nearly 10 times hotter than the interior of the Sun. In our research of solar processes we use some of the world’s fastest and most accurate computer modelling programmes and our contribution to the research is to use the same tools to create computer models of the plasma to get a significant understanding of the shockwave in the plasma and the fusion processes,” explains Jacob Trier Frederiksen.

The research network comprises both theoretical and experimental physicists within nuclear and atomic physics, fusion technology and plasma physics, high-energy physics, hydrodynamics and astrophysics. In all, 16 European countries are participating. The first experiments are planned in the USA at the Livermore research facility at the National Ignition Facility in California.

The grant of 7.5 million kroner from European Cooperation in the field of Scientific and Technical Research, COST does not include salaries for the researchers, but for the network collaboration for four years from 2013.