Newswise — Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory physicist Sam Cohen will receive funding from a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) award to his collaborator to upgrade and operate his Princeton Field Reversed Configuration device, the PFRC-2. The data produced could allow the design of future devices that might one day be used as a portable generator.

Cohen will receive $700,000 in the form of a subcontract from a $1.25 million award from the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) to Princeton Fusion Systems, which is working with Cohen on development of the device.

The ultimate goal of the research is to build power-producing devices for “high value applications,” such as electricity generation at natural disasters. Princeton Fusion Systems, a division of Princeton Satellite Systems that has licensed Cohen’s technology,  will manage the project.

PFRCs use a novel method of radio frequency power to drive plasma current and heat the plasma. High-temperature plasma is necessary for fusion reactions, like those that occur in the sun and stars. The subcontract supports upgrades to the PFRC-2 that will promote improved electron and ion heating. The ultimate goal is to create “small, simple, safe, and clean” power sources, Cohen said. Some of the funding will support graduate students who will assist with the research.

“I’m excited about the ARPA-E award,” Cohen said. “There are so many scientific problems, so many technical problems, we’ll be immersing ourselves in working on all these issues.”

Cohen plans to make the PFRC-2 more powerful by upgrading and replacing aging components and adding new features. The upgrade will include improvements to the vacuum system and  installation of additional power supplies and controls  to the magnets close to the FRC.

Cohen also plans to significantly increase the amount of radio frequency heating power applied to the plasma. Together, these improvements are predicted to improve ion heating, reaching temperatures near 10 million degrees C.

Along with these improvements, Cohen plans to build and install, with graduate student Eugene Evans, an ion temperature diagnostic to analyze whether the experiment is succeeding. The diagnostic would be a larger version of a device called an “ion energy analyzer” built by PPPL physicist Robert Kaita. Cohen also intends to acquire an additional x-ray detector for electron energy measurements.

The analysis of experimental results from the upgraded device will give Cohen and his team the ability to create models of the radio frequency heating, plasma formation, current drive, and plasma heating. If PFRC-2 experiments are successful, their results would be used to design and build the third-generation device, which would have more powerful radio frequency heating and magnets and is aimed at achieving temperatures exceeding 50 million degrees C.

PPPL, on Princeton University's Forrestal Campus in Plainsboro, N.J., is devoted to creating new knowledge about the physics of plasmas — ultra-hot, charged gases — and to developing practical solutions for the creation of fusion energy. The Laboratory is managed by the University for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which is the largest single supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit