Next Big Future August 1, 2018
Here is a rundown of the various nuclear fusion projects. Overall there many interesting projects with decent funding. Most are being more careful about making specific timeline promises. Molten Salt fission could deliver on most of the nuclear fusion clean energy and low-cost energy claims with what appears to be lower technical risks and no scientific uncertainties.
General Fusion is raising hundreds of millions for 70% scale demo system to be completed around 2023. The next system after the 70% scale system will be a full commercial system. They have a pulsed system without the need for plasma containment. General Fusion feels if they can prove out end to end power generation that scaling to higher energy return will not be a hurdle.
Simulation will be used to validate the economics and design specifics to move to a 100% system.
The Demo system will cost several hundred million dollars. General fusion is fundraising now. Several existing funders (Jeff Bezos, Canadian and Malaysian government) are likely participants in the next round. However, the fundraising cannot have actual disclosure until it is completed. As of late 2016, General Fusion had received over $100 million in funding from a global syndicate of investors and the Canadian Government’s Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) fund.
All of the individual components have been matured enough to enable integration into a prototype pilot plant.
Over the five years of the demo plant there will be design, construction and a nominal 18 months of testing.
The plasma injector component built so far is a 2-meter plasma injector. It will be a 3-meter injector for the pilot plant.
Helion Energy’s fifth-generation plasma machine, nicknamed Venti (as in a Starbucks coffee cup size), went into operation last year. Venti aims to compress a plasma target to 20 Tesla and to fusion temperatures.
The sixth-generation machine (Trenta?) is already being designed. The seventh-generation machine hopes to hit net energy gain.
Previously there had been hopes that the sixth machine would hit net energy gain. Helion Energy is pulsed energy and does not depend upon long-term containment of plasma.
LPP Fusion has raised nearly $1 million via crowdinvestment. They have enough money for 2018 experiments and some of 2019. They are trying to prove out a dense plasma focus fusion experiment for net energy gain. There is no confinement problem in their design. They have to work out controlling contimination of a nuclear fusion spark plug like design. They have a lot of scientific risk.
California-based TAE Technologies (formerly known as Tri Alpha Energy) has had over $500 million in venture capital to date. They are working on their fifth machine. They hope the next machine will hit break even energy.
• C-2U plasma sustainment compelling foundation for “long enough” (Gen 5 reactor targets 30 milliseconds up from 10 milliseconds)
• 3 year C-2W project underway – towards “hot enough” (Gen 5 targets 10x the power)
• Begin to work on to commercialization plan w/ utilities and industrial partners
MIT Commonwealth Fusion
Trying to make a compact Tokomak with more powerful superconducting magnets. They want a commercial tokomak by 2033.
MIT has spunout a tokomak fusion project into Commonwealth Fusion systems. They want to apply modular designs to high-temperature superconductors. They want to get to stronger magnets that will shrink the size and cost of the potential nuclear fusion reactor. Improved magnets would improve any nuclear fusion design that involves confinement of plasma. There is less science risk to this MIT approach but more technological risk. They are trying to accelerate the commercial use of high-temperature superconducting magnets and trying to contain their costs. Cost for superconducting magnets for past fusion projects have been $20 per watt but other applications have seen costs of $1.4 to $1.8 per watt.
Lockheed Compact Fusion
Lockheed is still working on the Compact reactor but they are doing computer simulations and testing to validate certain components and aspects of the design. The initial design claims of ten years to a 20-ton reactor that can be moved by truck have be wrong by 100 times. They now hope they can get to 2000 ton fusion reactor that works.