For decades, scientists and physicists have been trying to create nuclear fusion energy. Today, we’re getting a step closer as TAE Technologies, a clean fusion energy technology company, takes a new approach to the process of generating fusion power using field-reversed configuration (FRC).
The company recently built a new machine, called “Norman,” which features a tube-shaped chamber and creates a high current to produce many plasma toroids, which will combine to form a single self-confined toroid to generate heat, as explained in this recent article. Norman also features enhanced magnetic, heating and vacuum systems, which all assist in creating plasma as hot as 35.5 million degrees Fahrenheit.
This latest machine, which is the next step closer to generating nuclear fusion energy, was designed using modifications to the previous iteration, which was not capable of keeping the plasma hot enough for the process.
To improve upon this, TAE Technologies needed a high-quality vacuum system for the 110-foot, tube-shaped portion of Norman. This large chamber features seven smaller chambers interlocked by gate valves. Additionally, these gate valves needed a control system with parameters to prevent operator errors. The vacuum also has a complex relationship with the connected valves, vaults, pumps, interlocks and switches, in which activity in the vacuum triggers a series of sequential tasks.
“We needed to break the vacuum system down into smaller functions to help us understand and set controls for every connection point, especially because the vacuum system feeds into a much larger, complex system,” explains Andy Sibley, chief engineer, controls and electrical, TAE Technologies in the article.
In building this unique control system for the application, TAE Technologies reused the Allen-Bradley ControlLogix controllers that were in the previous machine, and worked with Rockwell Automation to develop an additional solution for Norman. The collaboration resulted in simple, flexible controls combined with rules and limits for each component of Norman.
With the implementation of Rockwell’s FactoryTalk View Site Edition software, operators can get a detailed look into each of the vacuum chambers, and can easily view trending data for pressure levels and pump speed.
Norman is not the end-all for TAE Technologies. In order to reach the goal of creating clean fusion energy, the company will need to build yet another machine with the ability to create plasma at temperatures as hot as 5.4 billion degrees Fahrenheit.