Data assimilation takes control for smarter fusion energy

Fusion energy stands as a beacon of hope amidst the global energy crisis, offering a sustainable solution to humanity’s growing demand for power. Among the various methods of achieving fusion, magnetic confinement stands out as the most advanced and promising approach. Here, ultra-high temperature plasma, the fuel for fusion, is corralled by magnetic fields within a reactor, where the energy released from fusion reactions can be harnessed to generate electricity.

The key to unlocking this potential lies in understanding and controlling the complex behavior of fusion plasma. Enter digital twin control, a cutting-edge technique where the behavior of the plasma in the reactor is mirrored and manipulated in a digital realm. This method holds promise but faces challenges in accurately predicting plasma behavior due to its intricate nature, influenced by factors like heating, fuel supply, impurities, and neutral particles.

To address this challenge, a pioneering research group has devised a novel control system, blending real-time observations with predictive models to optimize control strategies under uncertain conditions. Published in Scientific Reports, their innovation centers on data assimilation, a mathematical technique that bridges the gap between simulation and reality by incorporating observed data to refine predictive models.

Their brainchild, the Assimilation System for Toroidal plasma Integrated simulation (ASTI), marries data assimilation with control functions tailored for fusion plasmas. By continuously adapting simulation models to match real-time plasma behavior, ASTI enables accurate predictions and precise control adjustments based on these predictions.

At the heart of ASTI lies its ability to probabilistically forecast future plasma states through numerous parallel simulations. By assimilating observed data and target states into this predictive framework, the system fine-tunes itself to match the intricacies of real plasma behavior, allowing for precise control estimations.

In a groundbreaking experiment, ASTI was put to the test at the Large Helical Device (LHD), the pinnacle of superconducting plasma experimental facilities. Equipped with advanced control mechanisms and real-time measurement systems, the LHD provided the perfect testing ground for ASTI’s capabilities.

Researchers at LHD conducted an experiment to regulate the electron temperature of plasma using high-power electron cyclotron resonance heating (ECH), all the while refining predictive models based on real-time observations of electron density and temperature profiles.

Through ASTI, they demonstrated the power of data assimilation-driven control, achieving unprecedented accuracy in predicting and regulating fusion plasma behavior. Their success marks a significant milestone in the quest for practical fusion energy, bringing humanity one step closer to unlocking the limitless power of the stars.

Source: National Institutes of Natural Sciences

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