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Thales and Marvel Fusion to upgrade Romanian ELI-NP source

13 Dec 2022

Partners will upgrade laser system to research nuclear fusion as a future new energy source.

French engineering giant Thales, which develops defense, aerospace and high-tech systems, has joined forces with the German fusion technology company Marvel Fusion and the ELI-NP (Extreme Light Infrastructure – Nuclear Physics) in Romania to upgrade ELI’s laser system and to perform research relevant to nuclear fusion as a future new energy source.

Over the course of 2023, the three partners are planning to enhance parameters of the laser system, like the temporal laser pulse contrast, enabling unique research capabilities of laser-based fusion processes. Assuming a successful adaptation, Marvel Fusion will be the first private company to establish a scientific collaboration with ELI-NP, due to what Marvel calls “the complementary applicability of the Romanian laser system and Marvel Fusion's technology”.

As part of its ongoing cooperation with ELI-NP, Thales will supply a new stretcher unit that is used to stretch laser pulses over time, which initially reduces their peak power. The stretched, less powerful pulses can then be amplified and then re-compressed.

This process is part of the Chirped Pulse Amplification, for the development of which Dr. Donna Strickland and Dr. Gerard Mourou received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2018. Mourou is part of Marvel Fusion's Science and Technology Board.

New year, new campaign

Marvel Fusion in partnership with Thales and ELI-NP will start the experimental campaign at ELI-NP in 2023. The German company aims to validate key parameters of the laser-matter-interaction between high-intensity laser pulses with durations of tens of femtoseconds and nanostructured fuel targets.

In the experiments, the scientists will examine the essential physical processes of the interaction and their optimization. The partners say the results “will be published in a peer-reviewed journal in an effort to advance the field of laser-matter interaction”.

Marvel Fusion aims to show the core building blocks of its novel technology within three years as a precursor to building the first commercial [fusion-based] power plants in the 2030s.

“Fusion based on latest-generation short-pulse lasers can enable the European Union to guarantee an advanced energy system,” said Franck Leibreich, Laser Solution Managing Director at Thales. "With the most powerful laser system – ELI-NP in Romania – and the leading manufacturer of industrial short-pulse lasers, Europe needs to capitalize on its outstanding knowledge and first-class infrastructure to globally lead in laser-based fusion,” he said.

Thales joined the ELI-NP program in 2013 to develop and build the laser system. In 2019, the construction was finished by Thales and for the first time, a 10 petawatt (PW) laser pulse was fired at the facility. With two laser beams each reaching 10 PW of peak power, ELI-NP is said to be the world's most powerful short-pulsed laser system.

Dr. Georg Korn, CTO at Marvel Fusion and former scientific director at ELI, commented, “The ten petawatt laser system is an astonishing power level for laser systems. Experimenting at ELI-NP means that we now enter a phase in our technology validation in which we can draw direct physical conclusions about scalable designs of our target structures and the laser-target-interactions.”

Dr. Calin Alexandru Ur, Director of ELI-NP, added, “ELI-NP, with this unique capability to provide 10 petawatt laser beams, is expected to bring significant advances in basic sciences and important breakthroughs in applications of major societal interests.”

“The mission of ELI-NP is to act as a catalyst for connecting the research community with both the academic sector and industry and to become a hotspot for science, innovation and development. Embarking with Thales and Marvel Fusion in a high societal impact scientific collaboration dedicated to innovative technologies in laser-based nuclear fusion is an important step for ELI-NP in achieving its mission.”

ELI-NP's actions to capitalize on research potential, technology transfer and know-how are in line with the recommendations contained in the National Strategy for Research, Innovation and Intelligent Specialization 2022-2027 adopted by the Romanian Government in July 2022, which emphasizes the importance of scientific partnerships with the private sector and the development of international cooperation.

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