Nuclear Fusion: Has Its Time Finally Arrived?

A panel discussion at the Milken Institute

Published on May 2, 2016
Katie Fehrenbacher, Senior Writer, Fortune

Michl Binderbauer, Chief Technology Officer, Tri Alpha Energy
Michel Laberge, Founder and Chief Science Officer, General Fusion
Thomas McGuire, Research Engineer and Scientist; Compact Fusion Principal Investigator, Lockheed Martin
Dennis Whyte, Director, Plasma Science and Fusion Center, MIT

It’s been called clean energy’s Holy Grail — one with an almost inexhaustible source of fuel: hydrogen. For decades they’ve been talking about it, with the result being a lot more hype than fusion. Billions of dollars have been spent on nuclear fusion projects, without much to show for it. But the game may be changing. In recent years, startup companies capitalized by well-known investors such as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel have taken on the quest for nuclear fusion, adopting a Silicon Valley mindset of “move fast, fail fast” that doesn’t require government grants or giant infrastructure. For these bold scientists with a knack for thinking outside the box and taking risks, and for private investors who are willing to back them and take a gamble on saving the planet, fusion energy might be just around the corner, not decades away. These fusion startups are moving many times faster than publicly funded research ever could, often at much lower cost. Will this budding private sector and its new research approaches be a game changer? Has nuclear fusion’s time finally arrived?