Last week I attended the APS Division of Plasma Physics conference in Denver, CO, which was a great meeting full of learning about the state of the art in plasma physics and fusion research, updating about our progress on PFRC experiments, and discussing modeling and experimental techniques and power electronics with fellow attendees. A picture of me with my poster is shown below.
I presented a poster on modeling effects of plasma impurities (trace gases other than the main fuel, hydrogen, which tend to radiate more energy out of the plasma) on our x-ray diagnostics, which we are developing for electron temperature and density measurements. These diagnostics also give information about the electron energy distribution function (EEDF), where we can find the number of electrons at each electron energy. The EEDF hence supplies us with detailed knowledge of the plasma, including how non-equilibrium the plasma is, which can be used for verifying models and informing our other measurements. I implemented a model for line radiation from impurities and applied some more precise bremsstrahlung cross-sections and found good agreement with experiment, giving us higher confidence of our measurements even with impurities present.
There were comprehensive review talks on tokamak experiments, plasma astrophysics, and advanced plasma modeling techniques. There were also many smaller talks and poster sessions capturing the work done on plasma experiments and modeling in the vast array of sub-fields of plasma physics! It was great to also get updates on other field-reversed configuration plasmas at the conference and have fruitful discussion.
The conference venue was a good size, not too large that it would be difficult to make it to other session rooms or too small that it would feel crowded. A picture of the parts of the city surrounding the conference hotel during sunset as well as a glimpse of the surrounding mountains from the room I stayed in are shown below.
There were fire places right outside the conference center that were in good use because the first two days of the conference were pretty cold, reaching down to about 15 Fahrenheit! Since in some circumstances fire can be considered a plasma, and in general, fire has at least some charged particles, these fire pits were referenced in a few talks as an ice-breaker (no pun intended!) for discussing plasmas.
In summary, APS DPP 2023 was a great conference where I had the opportunity to:
(1) Catch up with the state of the art in plasma physics and fusion research. (2) Present my poster on x-ray diagnostics on the PFRC and get some helpful suggestions and communicate with other groups working on x-ray diagnostics. (3) Inquire about various groups’ power electronics requirements and setups, and also learn about application areas where people see our technologies providing a clear benefit. (4) Learn more about plasma experimental techniques and computational/theoretical work that could potentially be applied to our fusion and power electronics work.
We also build SunStation solar power systems. This probably makes us the only fusion company to have delivered fusion power (albeit from the sun) to the grid.
The following figure shows 24 hours of operation on a sunny day. The web interface is provided by the Outback OPTICS RE software.
The area from 14:30 to 17:30 is when cars are being charged. Power consumption is around 300 W including dishwasher, induction cooktop, refrigerator, lights, Internet, and a large screen TV. All of the lights are LED. The house has a geothermal heat pump. The heat pump also preheats water for a gas hot water heater. The house has an energy recovery ventilator that exchanges air every 3 hours. Over three times as much power was sent to the grid as was taken from the grid!
The black bars are the load. Note the jump when a 2021 Ford Mach-E is connected. The Mach-E uses an Aerovironment L2 charger. A 2018 Toyota Prius Prime is also charging. The Prime uses a wall plug and a charging cable. PSE&G has a new program for discounted electric power after 9 p.m. for electric car charging.
4.1 kW is being delivered to the grid. A snapshot of the solar array and\ power flow is below.
You can get a lot of power later in the day. Here it is at 4:23. The high load is due to EV charging.
The solar array is composed of Sharp and Panasonic panels. The Sharp were the original panels and the Panasonic were added when the system was upgraded to a SunStation. SunStation can operate even when the grid is down. It has a transfer switch that automatically cuts the link to the grid when the grid goes down. The battery capacity of 14 kWh is sufficient for about 5 days of operation when the solar input is zero. With normal sunlight, the home can operate indefinitely off-grid. There is no need for a fossil-fuel-based generator.
If you have an existing solar power system you would need to purchase a new inverter to charge batteries. An alternative is a Tesla Powerwall that connects to your AC wires and charges batteries by first rectifying the AC power. Some solar systems use micro-inverters that convert the solar panel’s DC power to AC power at each panel. These would also require something like the Powerwall.
The installation is shown below. The Outback Inverter is on the left. The Outback charges the batteries directly from DC power. The inverter is connected to the Mate3 interface which is connected to a NETGEAR range extender. The batteries are on the right in the cabinet. The battery management system is in the middle. The large boxes on the top prevent arc faults and are required by code. The box on the upper right is the power supply for those boxes. That functionality is now built into the inverters.
Here is a view of the roof. Notice the slight difference in color of the panels.
My name is Riya Anand. I am a rising sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania studying Chemistry and pursuing minors in Environmental and Sustainability Management and Engineering Entrepreneurship at the Wharton School. This summer I worked at Princeton Satellite Systems (also doing business as Princeton Fusion Systems) as a Business and Product Development intern.
I predominantly worked on two projects during my time at PFS: GAMOW & PFRC-3.
GAMOW: ARPA-E GAMOW brings together Princeton Fusion Systems, Princeton University, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), and Qorvo (formerly UnitedSiC) to develop high efficiency switching amplifiers using cascode wide bandgap (WBG) devices, employing advanced cooling technology in the form of digitally controlled boards. The Technology-to-Market (T2M) plan allows for the development of a strong understanding of a product and its surrounding market, customers, and acquisition strategies. Over the past few months, I worked on the third revision of the GAMOW T2M plan. Specifically, I worked to insert various elements to improve the strength and effectiveness of the plan to the reader.
In order to do this, I conducted market analysis (using a TAM/SAM/SOM framework for GAMOW’s primary, secondary, & tertiary markets) and cost analysis (using both a “bottom-up” and cost-benefit framework). In conducting the analyses, I was able to meet with leaders at PFS’s collaborating companies including the Head of Marketing at Qorvo, a company that specializes in creating cascodes, to collect metrics and strategies.
I followed up my market research with competitive analysis where I analyzed areas such as technology of focus, products, financial resources/market share, marketing strategies, future plans and growth, etc. for various competitive startups and companies. This allowed me to pinpoint areas PFS’s strengths and use it to compose a value proposition.
Additionally, I worked to organize all of the end-user organizations that PFS has come in contact with at previous summits, conferences, etc. to ensure room for effective communication and to serve as a reminder for the needs of clientele as the GAMOW technology develops.
Finally, after meeting with some potential investors for the GAMOW technology, I put down a framework for the EBITDA margin (earnings before interest, taxes, and amortization, a measure of company profitability), valuation at exit, & return on investment that would allow for derivation of numbers that could be presented to investors, collaborators, clients, etc. and helped in creating a GAMOW Product Roadmap document and pitch deck that simplified descriptions of each of GAMOW’s products, down to images and definitions of each component, both essential for strong understanding of the technology.
Apart from adding this information to the T2M plan, itself, I created a business/marketing slide with T2M information (including goals, target market, assessment of competitiveness, assessment of market, and a value proposition) that was used as PSS’s lead slide at the ARPA-E 2023 Energy Summit. I compiled all of the above information and other highlights within the plan into an Executive Summary of the technology that now leads the T2M report.
PFRC: The Princeton Field Reversed Configuration (PFRC) device is a nuclear fusion reactor which provides a revolutionary approach to fusion power generation. The reactor is small and clean and can be used in diverse applications, from submarines to urban environments to space propulsion. A model of the PFRC is shown below. Under this project, I attended the 5th Annual Department of Defense Power and Energy Conference outside Washington D.C. where I heard from renowned figures such as Major General David Maxwell and was able to speak to and learn from figures such as Honorable Sharon Burke and numerous representatives from Guernsey, Ammentum, and NextEra Energy about PFRC technology and applications.
Prior to the conference, I had been attending weekly Plasma Physics lectures under Professor Samuel Cohen at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (a national Department of Energy laboratory) and using the information I learned here to create T2M and general marketing slides, later accessible by all we spoke to at the conference. The slides included an extensive value proposition (in terms of military, space propulsion, civil terrestrial), market standing, manufacturing lead, product roadmap, end-user understanding, competitive advantage and analysis of the general industry). All of the contacts and information accumulated in this conference were compiled into a multipage summarizing document.
Via my conversations at the Summit, I was able to set up meetings with potential collaborators/clients and PFS. One of these meetings in particular experienced success and led to further discussion and strong possibility of collaboration once technological details are finalized.
Overview: As a whole, PFS provided me with a space where I was able to diversify my past experiences through exposure across various industries. The integration of hands-on-experience, being able to join conversations with clients, investors, and collaborators as an intern, into academic offerings made PFS an ideal environment for me to develop skills such as problem solving, effective communication, thought leadership, and collaboration, which will give me the agility and ability to understand and move between industries. I have gained experience in fields ranging from plasma physics and aerospace engineering to entrepreneurship and operations, giving me exposure to the crossroads between STEM and business. The tight knit network within the company provided me a place where I could grow, learn, and eventually, contribute to the business development efforts of the company. I would not have been able to do this without the help of each and every person at PFS who was extremely welcoming and willing to provide 1:1 mentorship and guidance each step of the way. I am extremely appreciative of PFS for giving me the opportunity to work with them this summer. I am confident that I will apply all that I have learned here to all of my future endeavors.
I attended the ARPA-E Fusion Programs Annual Meeting at the Omni Parker House Hotel in Boston, MA, June 14-15, 2023. The hotel is a landmark situated in the very heart of Boston. Here is a detail of the elevator.
The meeting venue was spectacular. We were on the top floor of the Omni Parker House. The food was excellent. The service in the hotel was the best I’ve seen. If you visit Boston it is a great place to stay.
The meeting included ARPA-E GAMOW, BETHE, and OPEN 2021 grant recipients. The meeting provided a great snapshot of all the work underway, including advances by several prominent companies including Commonwealth Fusion Systems, Zap Energy, and Type One Energy. The University of Maryland presented the status of its centrifugal mirror, and the RealTa Fusion gave the latest results for its high-field mirror. Other teams gave talks on their technology. Our talk was on our work in Wide Band Semiconductors. We presented Prof. Minjie Chen’s work on RF heating with boards that adapt to the plasma. We discussed our work on boards for pulse width modulation, high current short pulses, and very high voltage converters. I was the only speaker to finish early, in 7 minutes, so I was allowed one question which was on board cooling. I presented work by Princeton University,Qorvo and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).
Here are our posters. The top gives an overview and our pulse circuits. The bottom gives the work of Qorvo, Princeton University, and NREL. Our teams span the full range of technologies needed for high-performance power electronics.
Prof. Nat Fisch of PPPL gave an interesting talk on his concept for a boron proton reactor. In it, they heat only the protons, to 600 keV, and the hot protons collide with cold boron to produce fusion.
Prof. Andrew W. Lo of the MIT Sloan School gave a great talk on how to finance fusion through financial engineering. He explained the concept of present value, which is how pharmaceutical companies are valued. He suggested a fund composed of all fusion companies. A large number of modest investments would provide sufficient funding for fusion energy development. If even a couple succeeded the fund would make a lot of money. This approach spreads the risk around to a large group of people.
Prof. Lo also discussed the similarities between fusion research and drug discovery. Both involve large investments that have low probabilities of success. He talked about the work of Prof. Harvey Lodish of MIT who went on to start several biotech companies. His early work led to a therapy that saved the life of his grandchild.
Commonwealth Fusion Systems sponsored a reception after the meeting. It was another opportunity to chat with the participants. I spoke with people from ENERGY for the COMMON GOOD who are educating people on fusion technology.
CFS has an impressive new facility where they are building SPARC, their fusion test reactor. We saw the tokamak hall and the room where they are building their High-Temperature Superconducting magnets.
We next went to PSFC. PSFC hosted the Alcator machines that operated at 12 T and reached record plasma pressures. Alcator is being disassembled. The picture shows what remains.
They hope to replace it with a cyclotron for materials testing. Dr. Earl Marmar led our tour group.
I talked with many colleagues during the event. I’d say it was the best fusion energy event I’ve attended and I look forward to next year’s fusion meeting.
Princeton Satellite Systems has added Rankine cycle functions to release 2023.1 of its MATLAB toolboxes, which is coming soon. The following figures show the output from the function RankineCycle.m. The first diagram is the temperature entropy (T-s) diagram. Entropy can be viewed as the state of disorder in the system.
The red lines indicate the simple Rankine cycle while the bell-shaped curve is the T-s curve for water and steam. The second output is the cycle diagram, shown below.
Entropies are displayed on this diagram. You only need two pressures to define the cycle: the base and the peak. The pump compresses water which is fed to the boiler. The boiler produces steam that is converted to mechanical energy in the steam turbine. This drives a generator to produce electric power. The fluid output of the turbine passes through the condenser to become water.
This is the simplest Rankine cycle. The numbers on the diagram correspond to the numbers on the T-s diagram. The cycle is defined per unit mass of water flowing in the cycle so it can be scaled to any size. The MATLAB code has functions for handling steam tables, which are essential to studying or designing steam engines.
The final version of our paper, “Nuclear Fusion Powered Titan Aircraft,” by Mr. Michael Paluszek, Ms. Annie Price, Ms. Zoe Koniaris, Dr. Christopher Galea, Ms. Stephanie Thomas, Dr. Samuel Cohen, and Ms. Rachel Stutz is now available, open access, on the Acta Astronautica website. As described in our earlier post, the paper discusses a mission to Titan using the Direct Fusion Drive on the transfer vehicle, and a Princeton Field Reversed Configuration reactor to power an aircraft, that could fly around Titan for years. The reactor allows for high-power instruments, some of which were first proposed for the NASA Jupiter Icy Moon Orbiter Mission. The paper was first presented at IAC 2022 in Paris.
Two key figures were updated from the preprint version of the paper – Figure 11 and Figure 12, showing the power flow and mass breakdown of the PFRC for the electric aircraft. The earlier figures were from a larger version of the engine. The final engine design produces 0.5 MWe and has a mass of 1006 kg. This is now consistent with the system masses presented in Table 6. Vehicle Power and Payloads.
We had a great conversation with the host of this podcast, Rafael Roettgen, who asked us thoughtful questions. In this episode, we discuss topics such as: the future of space propulsion, the history and benefits of field-reversed configurations and how they compare with other fusion reactor concepts, mass and power budget considerations of a fusion rocket, and the road ahead for research and development to get us to a prototype for space. We additionally talk about terrestrial (on earth) applications of the PFRC concept as a globally-deployable power plant for remote areas and look forward to even more futuristic space concepts that could follow after the PFRC.
Our IAC paper on a fusion-powered Titan mission is now available in preprint on Acta Astronautica online, with the final version to come soon! Our mission concept utilizes two PFRC reactors: one configured as a Direct Fusion Drive rocket for the journey to Titan, and a second configured as a power source for the electric aircraft that will survey Titan. The paper includes a detailed design of the aircraft and analysis of optimal entry into the atmosphere and landing on the moon’s surface.
At the end of March, we attended the ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit in National Harbor, MD. At the Summit we presented our work on power electronics tailored for fusion systems under an ARPA-E GAMOW grant. It was a great experience to network with many other awardees of ARPA-E grants working on innovative energy projects and learn about the power electronics needs of potential customers so we could design our boards to these specifications. Shown below is our Summit booth which was run by PSS Mike Paluszek and me.
Breakout sessions included panels on: future plans for inertial fusion energy, nuclear & materials, rethinking the nuclear waste challenge, and scaling up innovations for impact in the private sector with the ARPA-E SCALEUP program. Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson gave a talk at the Summit!
The pdfs of the trifold and posters at our Summit booth are shown below. If you have any power electronics requirements for your systems, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org!