UK Atomic Energy Authority Collaboration

The Hartree Centre and UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) are collaborating to accelerate fusion energy research.

The UK programme to deliver fusion energy has boosted under a 5 year collaboration between the UKAEA and the Hartree Centre who launched a centre of excellence in extreme scale computing in fusion, located at STFC’s Daresbury Laboratory.

A photograph of a solar flare, large red and orange fireball on a dark bakground

Using supercomputing and AI to make fusion energy a commercial reality

Teams will use complex modelling and simulation to progress scientific understanding of fusion. A major theme for the collaboration will be to exploit the predicted confluence of high-performance computing and AI at the exascale, a turning point in computing.  It will aim to help scientists develop viable fusion energy technologies virtually, rather than relying on expensive, real world prototyping

The establishment of the joint centre of excellence in extreme scale computing in fusion at Daresbury Laboratory will also give UKAEA a base of operations in the North of England. Located at Sci-Tech Daresbury in the Liverpool City Region, this will be closer to its new fusion technology facility in South Yorkshire.

Overcoming challenges for a low-carbon future

Fusion energy is highly attractive as part of future low-carbon energy supply, but there remain technical challenges to be overcome. These include:

  • producing and managing the ‘plasma’ (the ultra-hot gas where the fusion process happens)
  • challenges in materials and engineering design.

This collaboration will apply the latest computing systems and world-leading supercomputing and data science expertise at STFC to address some of these challenges.  These include:

  • understanding and modelling plasma
  • producing the innovation required to develop ‘digital twins’ of future fusion power plants.

These sophisticated models, running on supercomputers, are a key element for helping scientists and engineers to develop viable reactor technologies ‘in-silico’ (in the virtual world). This is done rather than via expensive, real world prototyping.

The converging landscape of supercomputing and AI, combined with this unique collaboration, will accelerate the technology roadmap. This is needed to make clean energy from fusion a reality and will establish the UK as an international leader in applying extreme scale computing to fusion engineering design.

What is fusion?

Fusion is a natural process that powers the sun and other stars.  More specifically, it is the process by which certain isotopes of hydrogen, found in seawater, are fused together to create heavier particles and release energy.

However, many complex engineering hurdles must be overcome before fusion energy can be produced as part of a large-scale, affordable low carbon energy supply for the future.

World leading capabilities

Tim Bestwick, Chief Technology Officer at the UK Atomic Energy Authority, said:

“The Hartree Centre and UKAEA each have extraordinary world-leading capabilities in their fields, so this unique relationship can really accelerate the vital mission of developing sustainable fusion energy, which we believe will play a key role in our low-carbon future.”

Rob Akers, Head of Advanced Computing at UKAEA, said:

“As fusion enters the delivery era and we see the emergence of the world’s first exascale supercomputers, there couldn’t be a better time for STFC Hartree Centre and UKAEA to join forces on a mission to help deliver commercial fusion.

“Hartree Centre’s expertise in supercomputing and AI, combined with UKAEA’s domain expertise around fusion science and technology, will enable the co-design of solutions to eliminate large amounts of time-consuming real-world prototyping.

“This is an incredibly exciting endeavour that will help to make fusion an environmentally responsible part of the world’s future energy supply and also presents an exciting economic opportunity for the UK.”

Accelerating the UK fusion programme

Professor Kate Royse, Director at STFC’s Hartree Centre, said:

“While fusion might not power the world for some time yet, we are laying the foundations for it now through world leading research, skills and development.

It is fantastic to be working in such close collaboration with UKAEA, to co-design the tools, technologies and methods required by industry to accelerate the UK fusion programme.

As the UK’s only supercomputing centre dedicated to supporting industry, I believe strongly that Hartree Centre’s unique, world-class expertise will be essential to support the timely delivery of commercial fusion energy.”