Search
Close this search box.

We are creating some awesome events for you. Kindly bear with us.

UNSW Students Pioneering Sustainable Energy

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

The University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney is embarking on an ambitious venture to create the first-ever nuclear fusion device, completely designed, constructed, and operated by students. This initiative falls under UNSW’s Vertically Integrated Projects (VIP) programme, which seeks to engage undergraduate and postgraduate students in complex, interdisciplinary challenges led by UNSW faculty members.

The project is led by Dr Patrick Burr, an expert in nuclear engineering. The team’s goal is to develop a functional fusion device within the next two to three years. At its core, thermonuclear fusion involves heating atomic nuclei to incredibly high temperatures, typically ranging from 150 to 300 million degrees Celsius, and forcing them to merge under immense pressure, resulting in the release of substantial energy. This process mirrors the mechanism powering the sun and holds the promise of providing a clean and abundant energy source for Earth if harnessed successfully.

Fusion energy is gaining momentum as one of the fastest-growing sectors globally, with significant research efforts worldwide to harness it as a clean energy resource. Unlike nuclear fission, which powers conventional nuclear power plants by splitting heavy elements like uranium, fusion combines light elements readily available on our planet, such as hydrogen or boron. Importantly, fusion doesn’t rely on a chain reaction, and its by-product is helium, an inert gas with various valuable applications.

Nonetheless, creating and maintaining the extreme conditions of heat and pressure required for atomic nuclei to overcome their natural repulsion and fuse together is an extraordinary engineering challenge. UNSW’s maiden fusion-capable device will be a “tokamak,” a doughnut-shaped vacuum chamber equipped with potent magnets to control and heat plasma streams to the extreme temperatures necessary for nuclear fusion.

This initial tokamak could potentially be followed by other devices employing diverse fusion methods, such as high-power lasers. The programme receives support from the UNSW Digital Grid Future Institute and industry partners Tokamak Energy and HB-11 Energy.

Dr Burr, a faculty member at the UNSW School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, expressed, “This project will be the first in the world where students will design, build, and manage a fusion reactor. We want to excite the next generation of innovators and make them realise how they can make a big change in the world.”

The students involved in this groundbreaking project will be tasked with devising solutions to substantial engineering challenges, collaborating closely with industry partners, and pushing the boundaries of what is achievable with fusion energy. The skills they develop will be highly sought-after not only in the field of fusion but also in safety-critical infrastructure, transportation, space exploration, and conventional nuclear technologies.

Several research universities worldwide, including those in Japan, South Korea, Switzerland, Turkey, and the USA, currently operate traditional fission reactors for purposes like training nuclear engineers, materials testing, and the production of radioisotopes for medical and industrial applications. In contrast, fusion is widely regarded as inherently safe, given that it doesn’t rely on a chain reaction, as is the case with nuclear fission.

Dr Burr clarified, stating that the device can be viewed as an energy enhancer, rather than an energy originator. Consequently, when the device is powered down, there is nothing to enhance, leading to an automatic shutdown, akin to turning off a light bulb. Although the VIP project’s objective is to construct a fusion-capable apparatus, there are no plans to initiate hydrogen fusion once it’s completed.

Scientists have spent decades conducting fusion experiments to comprehend the prerequisites for achieving fusion, even for a fleeting moment. Now that these requirements are understood, the challenge lies in engineering solutions to sustain these extreme conditions for extended periods, possibly hours or even days. The objective is not to induce fusion but to maintain a plasma at temperatures in the millions of degrees Celsius without damaging sensitive components.

Therefore, the student-built device will operate without introducing any fuel capable of initiating a fusion reaction. Nevertheless, UNSW will collaborate closely with regulatory authorities such as the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) and the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office (ASNO) to ensure full compliance with all safety regulations.

Dr Burr provided assurance, stating that the tokamak device has compact dimensions, measuring approximately one meter by one meter. In the early stages of construction and testing, the primary concern revolves around managing high voltages, a well-recognised hazard in our laboratories. To address this concern, we have implemented specific safety protocols to minimise the associated risks.

Recognising that innovative technology in the nuclear domain can be contentious, Dr Burr emphasised that they are proactively addressing the societal impact of this project. The initiative encompasses a cross-faculty approach, involving academics from social sciences and arts. VIP students will analyse public perceptions of fusion technology and explore ways to engage with society to communicate its potential benefits.

In summary, UNSW’s groundbreaking fusion project represents an exciting endeavour that could shape the future of clean and abundant energy. Led by students and supported by industry partners, this initiative pushes the boundaries of engineering, safety, and public engagement. While challenges remain, the potential benefits of successful fusion technology are vast, offering hope for a cleaner and more sustainable energy future.

PARTNER

Qlik’s vision is a data-literate world, where everyone can use data and analytics to improve decision-making and solve their most challenging problems. A private company, Qlik offers real-time data integration and analytics solutions, powered by Qlik Cloud, to close the gaps between data, insights and action. By transforming data into Active Intelligence, businesses can drive better decisions, improve revenue and profitability, and optimize customer relationships. Qlik serves more than 38,000 active customers in over 100 countries.

PARTNER

As a Titanium Black Partner of Dell Technologies, CTC Global Singapore boasts unparalleled access to resources.

Established in 1972, we bring 52 years of experience to the table, solidifying our position as a leading IT solutions provider in Singapore. With over 300 qualified IT professionals, we are dedicated to delivering integrated solutions that empower your organization in key areas such as Automation & AI, Cyber Security, App Modernization & Data Analytics, Enterprise Cloud Infrastructure, Workplace Modernization and Professional Services.

Renowned for our consulting expertise and delivering expert IT solutions, CTC Global Singapore has become the preferred IT outsourcing partner for businesses across Singapore.

PARTNER

Planview has one mission: to build the future of connected work. Our solutions enable organizations to connect the business from ideas to impact, empowering companies to accelerate the achievement of what matters most. Planview’s full spectrum of Portfolio Management and Work Management solutions creates an organizational focus on the strategic outcomes that matter and empowers teams to deliver their best work, no matter how they work. The comprehensive Planview platform and enterprise success model enables customers to deliver innovative, competitive products, services, and customer experiences. Headquartered in Austin, Texas, with locations around the world, Planview has more than 1,300 employees supporting 4,500 customers and 2.6 million users worldwide. For more information, visit www.planview.com.

SUPPORTING ORGANISATION

SIRIM is a premier industrial research and technology organisation in Malaysia, wholly-owned by the Minister​ of Finance Incorporated. With over forty years of experience and expertise, SIRIM is mandated as the machinery for research and technology development, and the national champion of quality. SIRIM has always played a major role in the development of the country’s private sector. By tapping into our expertise and knowledge base, we focus on developing new technologies and improvements in the manufacturing, technology and services sectors. We nurture Small Medium Enterprises (SME) growth with solutions for technology penetration and upgrading, making it an ideal technology partner for SMEs.

PARTNER

HashiCorp provides infrastructure automation software for multi-cloud environments, enabling enterprises to unlock a common cloud operating model to provision, secure, connect, and run any application on any infrastructure. HashiCorp tools allow organizations to deliver applications faster by helping enterprises transition from manual processes and ITIL practices to self-service automation and DevOps practices. 

PARTNER

IBM is a leading global hybrid cloud and AI, and consulting services provider, helping clients in more than 175 countries capitalize on insights from their data, streamline business processes, reduce costs and gain the competitive edge in their industries. Nearly 3,800 government and corporate entities in critical infrastructure areas such as financial services, telecommunications and healthcare rely on IBM’s hybrid cloud platform and Red Hat OpenShift to affect their digital transformations quickly, efficiently, and securely. IBM’s breakthrough innovations in AI, quantum computing, industry-specific cloud solutions and business services deliver open and flexible options to our clients. All of this is backed by IBM’s legendary commitment to trust, transparency, responsibility, inclusivity, and service. For more information, visit www.ibm.com