Intel powers digital twin to design fusion power plant

  • July 11, 2023
  • Steve Rogerson

Intel is using digital-twin technology to help design a prototype fusion power plant in the UK.

As part of a collaboration with Intel and Dell Technologies, the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) and the Cambridge Open Zettascale Lab plan to build a digital twin of the Step spherical tokamak for energy production prototype fusion power plant.

The UKAEA will use the lab’s supercomputer based on Intel technologies, including fourth-generation Xeon scalable processors, distributed asynchronous object storage (DAOS) and OneAPI tools to streamline the development and delivery of fusion energy to the grid in the 2040s.

“Planning for the commercialisation of fusion power requires organisations like UKAEA to utilise extreme amounts of computational resources and artificial intelligence for simulations,” said Adam Roe, a technical director at Intel. “These HPC workloads may be performed using a variety of different architectures, which is why open software that optimises performance needs can lend portability to code that isn’t available in closed, proprietary systems. Overall, advanced hardware and software can make the journey to commercial fusion power lower risk and accelerated, a key benefit on the path to sustainable energy.”

Fusion energy, with its potential to provide near limitless and highly sustainable energy, is often heralded as the ultimate alternative power source, but a functioning fusion power plant that can deliver energy to the grid is still years away. Engineering a new breed of power plant requires a lot of advanced tools and massive amounts of modelling and simulations, all while fusion research and technology continue to advance.

As they work towards the functioning fusion facility, UKAEA and the Cambridge Open Zettascale Lab will use supercomputing and a digital twin, or prototype, of the Step machine design to accelerate engineering and help future-proof progress, even as things evolve.

“I firmly believe the future of sustainable energy will rely upon supercomputing,” said Rob Akers, director of computing programmes at UKAEA. “The world has an urgent need to provide energy security and combat climate change. This is a journey we must embark upon together, delivering access and capability to all those who will be instrumental in delivering commercial fusion energy.”

Working inside the industrial metaverse – a digital representation of an industrial environment that people can interact with – the UKAEA team can adapt their design as new information becomes available and technologies are developed. The supercomputer leverages Dell PowerEdge servers based on Xeon processors to run the massive amounts of modelling and simulations needed for fusion research.

OneAPI, which lets developers use a single codebase to deploy applications across multiple architectures, addresses one of the biggest inhibitors of simulation functionality and performance: code portability. Intel OneAPI tools and optimised AI frameworks can deliver performance for deep learning and molecular dynamics.

As a OneAPI centre of excellence, the Cambridge Open Zettascale Lab is focused on broadening this application set to include engineering, fusion materials and plasma simulation.

Storage speed is another potential roadblock in fusion research, which involves large simulations running across thousands of graphics processing unit nodes and then transferring a huge amount of data for fast post-simulation analysis. A single plasma turbulence simulation can output hundreds of petabytes of data in a very short window.

Intel DAOS is an open source, software-defined, scale-out object store that provides high bandwidth, low latency and high IO operations per second storage containers for high performance computing (HPC) applications. For fusion research, it offers a fast and frictionless pathway for analysis and calculations that need to happen in an incredibly small window of time.