MSE Seminar: “Emerging Challenges and Solutions for the Plasma-material Interface in Future Advanced Nuclear Fusion Reactors”

Date(s) - 04/13/2021
3:00 pm - 4:00 pm


Jean Paul Allain, Ph.D.

Professor, Department Head
Department of Nuclear Engineering
Penn State University

Dr. Jean Paul Allain is Professor and Department Head of the Ken and Mary Alice Lindquist Department of Nuclear Engineering.  Dr. Allain was Professor and Associate Head of Graduate Programs in the Department of Nuclear, Plasma and Radiological Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) from 2013 until 2019 and was Assistant and Associate Professor in Nuclear Engineering at Purdue University from 2007 to 2013.  Dr. Allain was also a staff scientist at Argonne National Laboratory from 2003 to 2007.  He received a masters and doctorate degree in Nuclear Engineering from UIUC and a B.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering from Cal Poly Pomona.  Prof. Allain works in areas of surface science and plasma-material interactions with applications in nuclear fusion, plasma medicine and advanced nanomaterials. Prof. Allain is recipient of numerous awards including: Argonne National Lab’s Distinguished Award from 2003 to 2006, Best Teacher Awards in 2008 at Purdue and 2013 at Illinois, Department of Energy Early Career Award in 2010, Purdue Research Excellence Award in 2011, the Fulbright Scholar Award in 2015, Faculty Entrepreneurial Fellow in 2016, Grainger Engineering Dean’s Excellence in Research Award in 2017 at Illinois, the 2018 American Nuclear Society Fusion Energy Division Technology Accomplishment Award, elevated to IEEE Senior Member in 2019 and received the Huck Endowed Chair in Plasma Medicine in 2019.



Although progress has been made in the last decade in establishing an understanding of plasma-material interactions (PMI), there remain critical knowledge gaps, particularly when it comes to predicting the behavior at the plasma-material interface under reactor-relevant fusion plasma conditions in a future plasma-burning neutron-dominated environment.

The plasma-material interface is considered to be one of the key scientific gaps in the realization of nuclear fusion power. At this interface, high particle and heat flux from the fusion plasma can limit the material’s lifetime and reliability and therefore hinder the operation of the fusion device. This region is critical to the operation of a nuclear fusion reactor since material can be emitted both atomistically (e.g. through evaporation, sputtering, etc.) and/or macroscopically (i.e. during transients events, such as disruptions or edge localized modes).

The environmental conditions at the plasma-material interface of a future nuclear fusion reactor interacting will be extreme. The incident plasma will carry heat fluxes of the order of 100’s of MWm-2 and particle fluxes that can average 1024 m-2s-1. The fusion reactor wall would need to operate at high temperatures near 800 C and the incident energy of particles will vary from a few eV ions to MeV neutrons.

Another challenge is the management of damage over the course of time. Operating at reactor-relevant conditions means the wall material would need to perform over the course of not just seconds or minutes (i.e. as in most advanced fusion devices today and in the near future), but from months to years. Therefore, the plasma-material interface will be a dynamic, evolving, reconstituted region of material that is constantly eroded and re-deposited a million times over, creating conditions that go well beyond our currently limited understanding of materials damage.

This talk will focus on outlining both the challenges and promises of PMI research in nuclear fusion today and the prospects for possible solutions for future plasma-burning fusion reactors.  The talk will also in part summarize recent strategic planning activities by the fusion community and the vision of realizing nuclear fusion as a viable energy option in deep decarbonization energy transition.

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