- Scientists have been working on nuclear fusion technology since the 1950s
- The latest wave of infusion of cash into fusion startups has already exceeded the $1.9 billion in total that was previously announced
Theoretically, two lone nuclear reactors running on small pellets could power the entire planet, safely and cleanly. That’s the promise of nuclear fusion. So, why are we still relying on fossil fuels? What’s stopping us from building these reactors everywhere?
After all, scientists have been working on nuclear fusion technology since the 1950s and have always been optimistic that the final breakthrough is not far away. Yet, milestones have fallen time and again and now the running joke is that a practical nuclear fusion power plant could still be decades away.
Well, several startups have been setting up shop to battle the kinky laws of physics that have so far prevented nuclear fusion from becoming a practical source of energy on our planet.
But none has managed to inspire as much investor enthusiasm as Commonwealth Fusion Systems. The Massachusetts-based fusion startup has just snagged more than $1.8 billion in the largest private investment for nuclear fusion yet from a plethora of big-name investors, including Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ:MSFT) co-founder Bill Gates, George Soros via his Soros Fund Management LLC and venture capitalist John Doerr.
Commonwealth Fusion System is in good company.
On Nov. 5, Helion Energy announced that it had raised $500 million in its latest fundraising round, making it the second-largest-ever single fundraising round for a private fusion firm. Helion has a chance to surpass Commonwealth Fusion System since its latest round of funding includes an additional $1.7 billion tied to certain performance milestones. Meanwhile, Canada’s General Fusion this week closed a $130 million fundraising round that was oversubscribed, the company’s Chief Executive Christofer Mowry has revealed. General Fusion plans to launch a larger fundraising effort next year.
The latest wave of infusion of cash into fusion startups has already exceeded the $1.9 billion in total that was previously announced, according to data tracked by the Fusion Industry Association and the U.K. Atomic Energy Authority.
“It’s a sign of the industry growing up,” Mr. Mowry has told the Wall Street Journal. oil price
Comment: I know a lot of you simply discount all this, but IMO that is a mistake. pl
more the better. This needs serious government funding in US.
It’d be great if a practical solution could be arrived at, but everything from magnetic confinement and on has been unable to produce anything other than a quick burst of energy not even reaching the level of the huge dump of electrical input required to achieve the fraction of a second burst. I’d love to think that could be our energy “mana from heaven”. I recall some whacky proposals for exploding a series of “Tsar Bombas” in deep boreholes and then harvesting the geo thermal energy thusly created. But for now nothing of practical use has come of the many physics experiments made over the decades and the old joke still remains: “Nuclear Fusion is the energy source of the future and always will be”
I’m for it. I kinda like Helion here in Washington State. In the past they have been accused of voodoo science. But they have produced prototypes and are on their sixth or seventh generation. Their goal is four to six cents per kW hour which is half or less of the national average.
Commonwealth Fusion is the youngest only founded three years ago. But they have the backing of MIT & Princeton, so might just make a go of it. I understand they are building a Tokamak at Fort Devens.
In the 1990’s, a co-worker with a physics degree said, ‘In 5yrs from now, fusion energy will always be 5yrs from now ‘. I was working in the telecom industry and we were joking about how everyone was waiting for ISDN (It Still Does Nothing) to take off and that is what inspired his cynical joke.
Maybe this time it is.
Scattered in various articles are the details as to why the MIT magnet technology is a game changer for fusion.
– 1/40th the volume magnet size compared to ITER
– operates 6000 kelvin warmer than ITER
– compared to a previous copper wire fusion experiment power reduction from 200 million watts to 20. Not a typo. 20. 1/10,000,000. ITER is described as using 110 to 620 million watts for 30 seconds of operation.
Attempts at Flight were considered myth and fantasy until it wasn’t.
“At 1 billion I stop”
They reach the billion dollars more easily than the billion degrees Kelvin…
[deuterium fusion requires more than 100 million °K, Lawson criterium]
I have been working (partly) on fusion advocacy for the past several years.
I continue to think that fusion energy could potentially be quite significant. Experts I respect believe that the first net fusion energy production breakthrough will be be a “magnetic confinement” tokomak machine (probably Commonwealth Fusion). This (tokomaks) is where nearly all US fusion research has been focused for decades.
However the experts I respect the most believe that then most likely practical and economic fusion energy will be something in the “MIF” space (between magnetic and inertial confinement – think NNSA’s Nation al Ignition Facility at LLNL).
DOE’s ARPAe recently offered an “ALPHA” fusion program that helped several MIF “startups” make quite significant progress with small amounts of funding. Helion was one of the companies funded by the ALPHA program and is a good example of a system that would likely be much more competitive than a tokomak if successful.
My organization has also funded an initial assessment of pretty much all potential fusion energy “constraints”, including safety, nuclear waste production, proliferation and potential supply chain issues so advocacy to alleviate such constraints can be launched. While fusion energy clearly has less significant constraints than solid fuel nuclear fission, the fusion energy industry has not yet focused seriously on such potential constraints as raising funding for demonstrating their technologies has been (for obvious reasons) a much higher priority.
What I think is needed to maximize the potential for technically and economically successful fusion energy is designing and implementing a program to support exploration of many more MIF concepts and moving them through R&D and then demonstration stages. Such programs should probably be “launched” in several countries including the US, the UK and probably Canada.
Costs of such programs would be relatively modest compared to US tokomak funding to date and likely near-term US public support for cost-sharing demonstration of current “ready for demonstration” fusion company projects.
There are also a couple of other “off the radar” technologies that could be quite competitive with fusion energy. One is “Super Hot Rock” geothermal energy that could move significantly over the next decade and another that remains confidential.
So fusion energy has very significant potential, but is probably not as imminent and competitive as current industry proponents suggest.
Comment to me from a VP of General Atomics was that he expected it would take a hundred years before fusion was viable.
Hydrogen fuel cells, here now.
A tiny fraction of what is needed.
Two issues w/hydrogen.
1. Is there a large, accessible reservoir of hydrogen we can get to? We can use electrolysis to create it, but now we are back to electricity generation.
2. Containers, it tends to escape.
The Sun has a whopping load of hydrogen. It’s also a massive fusion reactor. So close yet so far. If only there was a way to get it without waiting for the Sun to convert it to photons, spray it every different direction, filter it through our atmosphere, and then finally convert it to electricity. All that lovely energy, sitting in a tight ball but no way to get any of it.
BTW not mocking anyone, me and a co-worker used to have conversations like this all the time to blow off steam.
I’ll through out an idea, replying to my own post for continuity. I wonder how much of an advantage you get having solar panels closer to the Sun as opposed to the surface of the earth. There is the inverse square law, so I bet Mercury is getting pelted w/a lot more photons than we are. We have a solar satellite based solar panels close to the sun converting electricity to a concentrated beam of microwaves to satellite closer to earth and then to earth. I know there are safety concerns but the beam can sync’d w/laser targeting so that if it does not see it’s reflection, it deflects the energy out into space and maybe roasts an astronaut or two but not people on earth.
I’ve read about orbiting solar panels before. The thing I’m curious about is how much more energy density is there if you can get closer to the sun.
Hydrogen isn’t much of an answer. It costs more energy to make it than you get out when you burn it. Might as well use an EV and cut out one source of energy loss. And H2 is difficult to store and quite dangerous to use.
100 years ago we had: Feynman, Bohr, Einstein, Rutherford, Planck, Heisenberg, Schrodinger, Fermi, Tesla, Boltzmann, Marconi, and many others.
Who do we have today ? CEOs ?
It really is the responsibility of the federal government to fund the basic research needed to understand the previously-unknown-on-earth environments that fusion power will involve.
A specific plan has been put forward for some basic research that is needed to
understand those environments, and what that will cost.
See a news article, a news release, and a detailed PDF of their plan:
An HTML overview of the plan:
In my opinion, it is an absolute shame that the federal government is not going full speed ahead on giving these scientists and technologists the funding and resources they need to adequately explore those hitherto unknown realms.
IMO the Davos/Biden crowd would rather see the peasants reduced to driving oxcarts than have cheap energy. pl
Money being thrown at Research into Nuclear Fusion is evidence that Astrophysicists are very good at painting word pictures and 10x smarter than investors with access to spare cash. There’s a 2017 TV documentary called “Let There Be Light – Nuclear Fusion.” It runs for around 80 minutes and focuses on ITER, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor which is under construction in France. It begins with a brief description of the 2 main schools of thought on fusion devices, the Stellarator (USA) and TOKOMAK (Ru) and a small number of private amateur projects based upon alternative theories to the above. TOKOMAK won out over the Stellarator and is now the Astrophysicist’s preferred money-pit.
The main flaw in Earthly fusion theory is that the only place continuous Hydrogen fusion occurs is in the centre of stars, under a pressure of thousands of tons per square inch, in which Hydrogen exists as a hot densely packed liquid metal with the atoms squashed up against each other.
The secondary flaw is the (apparent) failure to explore the reason that fusion inside stars is a stable process – in equilibrium. If the reaction was prone to the runaway effect upon which Atomic Bomb theory is based, then there would be stars exploding willy-nilly all over the Universe.
The idea that these conditions can be duplicated in an environment restrained by a magnetic field is interesting in a Dark Matter kind of way.
One of the experts interviewed for the documentary describes experimental fusion devices as Perhaps-a-trons.