Nuclear fusion has the potential to be a near-limitless source of continuous power that emits no carbon dioxide.
While fusion research has been ongoing for many decades, we are now entering the 'delivery' phase of fusion research, with building of ITER well underway and plans being drawn up to build full commercial demonstrators. Nevertheless, significant challenges remain that must be overcome before fusion power is connected to the grid, and many of these are associated with the materials used in fusion plants.
The conditions inside a fusion reactor are extreme. Temperatures in the plasma reach over 100,000,000 K, and while temperatures of the surrounding materials are far lower, plasma-facing components can still experience very high thermal loads and operating temperatures. Coupled to this, the plasma also emits streams of highly energetic particles that can cause exceptionally high levels of irradiation damage. It is not surprising, therefore, that many of our conventional materials are not well suited to such demands.
In order to meet the challenge of producing a commercially viable fusion reactor, we must develop new bespoke materials and processes to build fusion reactors, and also develop our understanding of how fusion reactor conditions degrade material performance. The University of Manchester’s outstanding materials characterisation facilities and access to the Dalton Cumbrian Facility means that researchers are uniquely equipped to carry out innovative fusion materials research.
Collaborative research combining the expertise of many researchers is critical to the success of fusion, and we are proud to be part of the Fusion Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) together with the universities of York, Liverpool and Oxford and Durham. We also maintain very strong collaborations with the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE).
The following research groups, centres and institutes work within the fusion power field: