Fusion, the process that powers the sun and stars, has the potential to provide clean, safe, and reliable carbon-free energy on earth. Harnessing fusion energy is one of the greatest scientific and technological challenges of the 21st century. Fusion requires the fuel to be heated to more than 100 million degrees (10 times hotter than the core of the sun). Practical fusion energy also requires that the burning fuel is kept at these hot temperatures long enough that energy produced by fusion exceeds the energy required to initiate and sustain the fusion reactions. The two most widely investigated approaches to fusion are Magnetic Confinement Fusion and Inertial Confinement Fusion (ICF).
In the last two years, the U.S. ICF program supported by the National Nuclear Security Administration has produced two significant scientific results. In August 2021, a burning plasma was achieved on NIF with a yield of 1.3 megajoules (MJ). Then, in December 2022, NIF announced a breakthrough result where scientific breakeven (target gain>1) was achieved. More energy from the fusion reactions was produced (3.15 megajoules) than the laser energy that created the burning plasma (2.05 megajoules).
"The exciting results from NIF proved the scientific feasibility of inertial fusion," said Asmeret Asefaw Berhe, director of the Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Science. "We look forward to solving the remaining scientific and technical challenges of inertial fusion as we make it a feasible part of the U.S. fusion portfolio."
Consistent with the Energy Act of 2020 and in support of the White House Bold Decadal Vision for Commercial Fusion Energy, the DOE's Office of Science is starting an IFE program to advance science and technology research areas as outlined in the recent IFE Basic Research Needs Workshop Report.
Total planned funding is up to $9 million in Fiscal Year 2023 dollars for projects lasting up to four years in duration. Continued funding is contingent on Congressional appropriations.
The Funding Opportunity Announcements titled "Inertial Fusion Energy Science & Technology Accelerated Research (IFE-STAR)" can be found on the Funding Opportunities Announcements page.