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EU awards significant funding for Finnish AI-assisted fusion research

The University of Helsinki will lead a new centre specialised in fusion research based on artificial intelligence and modelling, harnessing the strong expertise in AI in the Helsinki region for future energy production.
Credit © ITER Organization
Credit © ITER Organization.

EUROfusion, a consortium that coordinates fusion research in Europe, has awarded a significant grant to Finnish research on fusion energy and the artificial intelligence solutions that support it. A new AI-support centre for fusion research (E-TASC Helsinki Advanced Computing Hub) is aimed particularly at improving the computing preconditions associated with fusion energy. Thanks to the €3 million awarded for the period of 2021–2025, the new centre will become the largest individual EUROfusion project ever established in Finland. 

In addition to the University of Helsinki, the coordinator of the project, the contributors include the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, Aalto University, CSC – IT Centre for Science and Åbo Akademi University.

“Establishing the AI-support hub in fusion research in Finland is an excellent example of the potential of combining the strong AI expertise in the Helsinki region with other fields of science and, consequently, boosting Finland’s chances of acquiring international research funding,” says Professor of Computational Materials Physics Kai Nordlund, dean of the Faculty of Science at the University of Helsinki.

“The centre brings together AI expertise from the University of Helsinki, high-performance computing expertise from CSC, Aalto University’s expertise in fusion physics, the information technology expertise of Åbo Akademi University and VTT’s knowledge of fusion power plants. Disseminating such combined knowledge and skills also to other fields and to the Finnish industry is an especially important goal,” says Principal Scientist Tuomas Tala from VTT, who heads the Finnish research efforts under EUROfusion in the FinnFusion consortium.

“Lumi, a supercomputer to be built in Kajaani, offers the best possible resources for performing the long and memory-intensive calculations required by fusion simulations and AI applications,” notes Professor Jan Westerholm from the Department of Information Technologies, Åbo Akademi University.

The centre will also benefit from the Finnish Center for Artificial Intelligence, a Flagship of the Academy of Finland, whose solid network of AI specialists ensures the availability of the latest expertise, including in fusion research.

Clean en­ergy from fu­sion

The possibilities of fusion energy have been investigated since the 1950s. Unlike the nuclear reactors currently in use, which are based on fission, fusion reactors generate power by combining isotopes of hydrogen. Consequently, fusion would enable a form of energy production where the availability of the fuel is geopolitically neutral. Moreover, fusion energy does not generate any greenhouse gas emissions. The obstacles on the path to making fusion energy a reality have included controlling the extremely high temperatures needed for the process, the homogeneity of the energy production and the large machinery needed for production. The European Union aims to generate electricity from fusion energy by 2050 at the latest, with the EUROfusion consortium aiming to deploy a demonstration power plant already in 2040. 

The E-TASC Helsinki Advanced Computing Hub, which will launch operations in July 2021, will be located on the University of Helsinki’s Kumpula Campus.

“By getting a project that particularly emphasises the expertise of junior researchers in different fields, we have demonstrated that the right combination of disciplines can help solve both current and future major energy-related challenges,” says Fredric Granberg, group leader at the new computing hub. 

According to Academy of Finland Research Fellow Eero Hirvijoki and Assistant Professor Andrea Sand from Aalto University, who are participating in the project, the best junior scientists in the field want to work in these hubs, sharing their experiences with the people they know, who, in turn, apply for expert positions offered, for example, by Finnish industry.

The EUROfusion consortium awarded funding to a total of five specialist computing hubs, one of which is the AI-support hub for fusion research to be established in Finland. Finland’s application was ranked the second-best of all European applications.

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