Fusing unlimited energy and environmental benefits

Unlimited clean energy is the goal for one Washington State University doctoral candidate’s research.

WSU doctoral candidate Jacob T. Fisher’s dissertation research on twin screw extruders and modeling is part of an international collaboration striving to bring the world limitless clean energy.

Fisher’s dissertation research contributes to the ITER project, a scientific experiment of mammoth proportions that aims at building a nuclear fusion reactor capable of producing more power than it consumes.

“We’ve had similar machines operating for over 50 years now, none have been large enough and powerful enough to generate more energy than they consume, until hopefully ITER,” said Jacob W. Leachman, assistant professor in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering at WSU.

According to iter.org, the goal of the ITER project is to create a tokamak nuclear fusion reactor that produces 500 megawatts of fusion power, which is ten times the power the machine takes to run.

With an ITER Agreement signed by China, the European Union, India, Japan, Korea and Russia, scientists and engineers from all over the world are manufacturing parts for the fabrication of the ITER Tokamak, which will be composed of over one million parts once it is completed.

 “The United States is responsible for designing the fueling system for which my twin screw extrusion research is important,” Fisher said.

In collaboration with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Fisher has been working on creating and testing a twin screw extruder that is capable of continuously producing solid hydrogen, thereby serving as fuel in fusion reactors.

“Think of the twin screw extruder similar to the fuel pump in your car. The twin screw extruder produces the solid hydrogen fuel pellets that get fired into the ITER to fuel it,” Leachman said.

Fisher has successfully created a scaled hydrogen twin screw extruder with sensors that determine the viability of its operation. He is currently testing the extruder operation by taking measurements while pumping solid hydrogen, deuterium, or neon. These tests have recently revealed temperature profiles that were not previously known, which will help in the advancement of future development efforts.

Fisher began his research in October 2010, and is on track to conclude before this May. With the completion of Fisher’s Ph.D. thesis, U.S. ITER will be able to commence designing and operating the full sized twin extruders that will be equipped in the ITER Tokamak.

“Fusion can solve a lot of global issues including rising energy demand, pollution, global warming, energy security and proliferation,” Fisher said. “The journey has been incredibly rewarding and has given me a diverse experience in engineering.”

The reactor is expected to be completed by 2019. Construction of the ITER site is currently underway in Cadarache, France.