HiPER stands for High Power laser Energy Research facility
HiPER is a European project which seeks to define the path to the production of secure, sustainable, safe and affordable energy with low environmental impact based on fusion driven by lasers.
HiPER is planned to build from the upcoming “proof of principle” demonstration of laser fusion, anticipated on the National Ignition Facility (USA).
HiPER completed a 2-year design study involving senior scientists from 12 nations. The conclusions of this study allowed HiPER to be selected onto the European roadmap for future large-scale science facilities. Download pdf
HiPER is now approaching completion of a Preparatory Phase to define the strategy for progression to subsequent phases in terms of the technical, financial, legal and governance issues. The Preparatory Phase has received direct funding from the European Commission for management and coordination and two national funding agencies for technical work (STFC and MSMT). In addition, the project has benefitted from significant ‘in-kind’ funding from formal partners. For example, in the Aquitaine region of France has been strategically aligned to the HiPER project to address many important issues related to the successful achievement of the HiPER facility. See http://petal.aquitaine.fr/
The current phase has partners from 26 institutions in 10 countries, including representation of 6 European nations at the governmental or national funding agency level, 2 regional governments and has involvement from industry.
The nations involved at “partner” level are: Czech Republic, France, Greece, Italy, Spain, and the UK. In addition, the Conseil Régional d’Aquitaine (France) and the Comunidad Autonoma de Madrid (Spain) are involved at the regional government level. Institutions and scientists from Russia, Germany, Poland and Portugal are also directly involved in the project.
The project also has links with scientists from the USA, Japan, China, Republic of Korea and Canada.
The objective of the “Preparatory Phase” is to establish a clear path for the construction of HiPER. This involves an assessment of the options in terms of the technology choices and the associated impact, feasibility and cost.
Fusion has been called the “holy grail” of energy sources – combining abundant fuel with no greenhouse gas emissions, minimal waste products, and a scale that can meet mankind’s long-term energy demands
Fusion is the combination of small atomic nuclei into a larger nucleus. As predicted by Einstein (E=mc2), this process can release a large amount of energy
Fusion is the process that powers the Sun and all stars.
Earth-based fusion reactors use Deuterium and Tritium (isotopes of Hydrogen) to create Helium gas and a neutron. The helium is used to drive subsequent fusion reactions (creating a self-sustaining process). The neutron is captured in a “blanket” surrounding the fusion chamber – it deposits its energy and heats up blanket. This heat is used to drive a conventional steam turbine power plant, generating electricity.
Fusion power plant designs can range from Mega-Giga watt scale.
Sea water and the Earth’s crust contain the main fuel source (Deuterium, and Lithium to create Tritium). There is sufficient fusion fuel on Earth to last into the far future.
Energy security is a key advantage of fusion, because the fuel is found across the globe.
Fusion energy research has been pursued for many years. In the 1950s and 60s, it was thought that the process could be harnessed easily. This was proven not to be the case but, after many years of investment, scientists believe there are two attractive routes to fusion power. One uses large scale magnetic fields (the approach adopted by the international ITER reactor). The other uses very high power lasers (the approach adopted by HiPER).
While “magnetic confinement” of a low density hot plasma in toroidal (doughnut-shaped) geometry will be pursued by the “ITER” facility, ‘Inertial Confinement’ will use extremely powerful lasers to drive fusion.
“Inertial confinement” fusion (also called laser fusion) is based on creating much higher densities for much shorter timescales, using tiny (mm-size) pellets containing the fuel. These pellets are imploded using high power laser beams, producing fusion reactions inside the compressed fuel at more than a thousand times solid density for a few tens of picoseconds (1 picosecond = 1 millionth of a millionth of 1 second). To drive a power plant this process is repeated 10 times a second to create a continuous flow of electricity at the mega watt - Gigawatt scale. This is conceptually similar to a car engine, in which fuel is injected, compressed and ignited many times a second. But for fusion, the energy release is far, far greater.
Present estimates predict the achievement of net fusion energy production for a laser energy of approximately 1 million Joules (a megajoule). Two large laser facilities at this scale are now moving towards this goal. In France (LMJ: Laser Mégajoule) is nearing completion, and in the USA (NIF: the National Ignition Facility) is already operational and approaching completion of its first “ignition campaign”. These facilities are anticipated to generate over 10 times more energy than delivered by the laser. They will adopt a “conventional” approach to inertial fusion, using laser generated x-rays to drive an implosion which compresses the fuel. That is, the laser is used to create intense x-rays which force the fuel together until it ignites.
Net energy production from inertial fusion has already been demonstrated in an offshoot of the US defence mission in the 1980s. It now remains to demonstrate energy production in the laboratory using a laser. This is anticipated on NIF in the period 2012 to 2014, marking the culmination of many decades of research.
This will be a highly significant event. Termed “ignition”, it will demonstrate that more energy can be produced by laser fusion than is required to drive the process.
It is essential that we clearly understand the future path to an energy programme following this scientific “proof of principle”. This will require international cooperation over the years ahead to produce the necessary leap in technology from this scientific demonstration to an exploitable solution.
The HiPER project has been designed to drive this technology development and. Europe is ideally placed to take a leading role in this journey, with a focused programme to ensure timely progress.
The HiPER project provides a clear path from the demonstration of laser fusion “ignition”. Its approach includes a strong technology and science mission which will deliver leading-edge results throughout the life of the facility, but will be ready to answer the key political and public questions of what should be done after NIF has achieved net energy production.
The process of inertial fusion is shown schematically on this website
Fusion does not release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, thought to be a factor in global warming
Fusion fuel is found in abundance in seawater and the earth’s crust, giving assured energy security, with fuel sufficient to last for thousands of years.
Only short-lived radioactive waste will be produced. Fusion does not rely on a large fuel mass inside a reactor , and so ‘melt down’ is not possible.
The high temperatures created by fusion can be used to drive a Hydrogen production cycle. Hydrogen is needed as a carbon-free ‘portable fuel’ (e.g. to power vehicles). Fusion can provide energy both for the national grid and to supply local, mobile power sources.
The benefits of fusion energy cannot be overstated in the current setting of climate change, pollution, energy security and ever-increasing demand for energy. The combination of these factors represents a principal challenge for mankind.
The discovery of fusion cannot be attributed to a single person but a collection of discoveries by many different scientists.
In 1905 Einstein published the famous equation E=mc2 , which equated energy and mass. In 1920, Francis William Aston first discovered four separate hydrogen nuclei were heavier than a single helium nucleus. On the basis of this work, Arthur Eddington proposed in 1920 that the Sun could get energy from converting hydrogen nuclei into helium nuclei (via E=mc2). In 1939 Hans Bethe then distilled these facts into a quantitative theory of energy production in stars, which eventually led to him winning the Nobel prize in 1968.
The first tentative fusion experiments were carried out in the Cavendish laboratory in Cambridge (UK) during the 1930’s, but serious effort was not applied until the 1950’s when the ZETA device was built at Harwell in the UK.
Renewable technologies like wind and solar power are already being exploited.
The national grid also needs a reliable and constant method for generating the base load requirements. This need is currently met by fossil fuel burning power stations and nuclear fission reactors.
A fusion power plant would be a low-carbon alternative to fossil fuel stations.
The basic fuel is found in seawater and so energy security is greatly enhanced, removing the reliance on regionally based fuel sources.
The National Ignition Facility (NIF) and Laser Mégajoule (LMJ) are large facilities designed primarily for defence purposes. Only a small part of their mission is to investigate the science associated with energy generation. The method used in these facilities is not well suited to commercial power production.
HiPER will be a civilian facility whose main mission is to demonstrate that inertial fusion could be used as a future energy source. To do this it will use an all-optical method of energy generation called “fast ignition”. This separates the process into 2 stages: fuel compression and fuel heating. This is analogous to a petrol engine (compression plus spark plug) approach. Fast ignition is predicted to require a much smaller laser to achieve high energy output, and so is far more compatible with a commercial power station’s requirements.
Fusion ignition at NIF is expected to be demonstrated in the period 2012 to 2014.
The HiPER Project preparatory phase project finishes in April 2013. The project has identified the future phasing strategy which is designed to reduce risk at each stage before progression into the subsequent phase.
In outline form, the phasing strategy following the Preparatory Phase is as follows:
See the Project Phases page (INSERT LINK) for further details. The HiPER phasing strategy is based on reasonable assumptions regarding funding decisions, planning etc. Current planning suggests that the HiPER prototype Laser Energy plant could start to be constructed on the 2030 timescale with commissioning and operations commencing towards the end of that decade.
In the near term, conventional nuclear fission power stations will continue to be a part of the reduced carbon energy generation requirements. The technology is well developed and efficient and will continue to be a part of energy generation well into the future.
Fusion is always 30 years away isn’t it?!
The expected achievement of net energy production using laser fusion (by the NIF facility in ~2012-14) will change the energy landscape, justifying an accelerated programme based on solid scientific proof.
It has taken so long to reach this point is because we needed to find a reliable way to produce extreme conditions in the laboratory. To obtain fusion the fuel must be heated to 100 million degrees Celsius. At these temperatures matter becomes a plasma (made from negatively charged electrons and positively charge nuclei). The plasma must be confined to keep the nuclei together long enough to undergo the fusion reaction. Confinement of plasma is very difficult as the plasma must not make contact with the vessel walls. No known materials can withstand such temperatures and the plasma would also cool and collapse due to heat loss. Instabilities in plasma are also a significant challenge as they can be disruptive and cause energy loss.
For laser driven fusion the appropriate laser and fuel pellet technology for power stations is still being developed – work which HiPER is addressing alongside the fusion physics.
Only short lived radioactive products are produced.
The fusion process does produce neutrons and other high energy particles. These can interact with the reaction chamber and its immediate environment, producing some radioactive waste through the life of the fusion power plant. The level and nature of this waste is easily manageable however, since it involves only short-lived isotopes. Calculations indicate that it will take only 100 years to return a fusion power plant to brown field status.
HiPER will be a facility purely designed to demonstrate energy production from Laser Fusion with all results published to the international scientific community. No aspect of research undertaken on HiPER will be classified. This has been a guiding principle of the project and a central aspect of the consortium from its inception.
Siting decisions will be made in the Technology Development phase and will depend on the funding, governance and regulatory framework.
The funding model for construction of HiPER will be developed during the technology Development Phase. The project strategy is to reduce risk during the technology Development phase so that the balance of funding for construction moves toward private funding or a public/private initiative.