Who does Nuclear Fusion?

  • Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS) was born as a spin-off of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC), in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Its project SPARC is attracting world’s attention, due to its projected feasibility. SPARC has recovered the old concept of toroidal tokamak, confining plasma more efficiently by reducing its size and increasing the magnetic field. The latter is obtained through magnets made up with new High Temperature Superconductor (HTS) material called Rare Earth Barium Copper Oxide (REBCO), which allows reducing construction costs. Currently, CFS is developing and testing HTS magnet at component scale and finishing its design. For 2021 net energy is projected to be obtained from SPARC, and in 2025 its descendant ARC is thought to be the world’s first fusion power plant. In the figure we can appreciate the comparison in size, magnetic field, and power between SPARC and ITER project.
Comparison between ARC and ITER project, and its projected power. Credit: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2542435119301254
  • TAE Technologies is a Californian company based in Foothill Ranch, focused on aneutronic fusion, which means that most energy is released in form of charged particles as protons or alpha particles. This implies a reduction on problems associated with neutron radiation, which typically escape from confined plasma. Its main approach to nuclear fusion is called Norman, the platform leverages naturally occurring electric current in fusion plasma by injecting neutral beams confining and stabilizing the plasma, using field-reversed configuration (FRC). These twenty-seven meters long and nine meters high fusion platform is the prelude of Copernicus, the final device which is supposed to reach commercial nuclear fusion by 2030.
TAE Technologies prototype ‘Norman’. Section and confined plasma in its center.
  • General Fusion, the Canadian approach, which is funded by a variety of investors and has attracted Jeff Bezos attention. Its (projected) fusion power plant, based on magnetized target fusion, consists of three components: the plasma injector, an array of pistons and a chamber of spinning liquid metal. The magnetized target fusion is in the mid-ground between magnetic confinement fusion, which works with low-density plasma and long lifespan, and inertial confinement fusion, which consists of high-density plasmas with much shorter lifespan. Consequently, more conventional compression methods such as pistons can be employed. Instead of using magnets to compress plasma, General Fusion device injects a plasma, in the form of a compact toroid as the magnetized target, into a chamber of spinning liquid metal forming a hollow cylinder, which is compressed as required for fusion conditions. Recently, General Fusion has signed an agreement with The UK Atomic Energy Authority to build and operate its Fusion Demonstration Plant at UKAEA’s Culham Campus.
General Fusion device. Credit: https://generalfusion.com
  • The British company, Tokamak Energy, as its name indicates, is focused on the compact spherical tokamak, called ST40. As CFS (the company we first talked about), Tokamak Energy use HTS superconductors and a low tokamak radius. The company is proud of having reached in 2018 a plasma temperature of about fifteen million degrees, hotter than the core of sun, and approximating to one hundred million degrees, which is the plasma temperature that fusion between deuterium and tritium needs. In close contact with academia, its aim is proving that fusion power can be a clean and limitless source of energy by 2030.
Spherical tokamak ST40 (inside view) Credit: https://www.tokamakenergy.co.uk/st40/
  • Helion Energy, located in Redmond, Washington, is developing magneto-inertial fusion, combining the stability of steady magnetic fusion and the heating of pulsed inertial fusion. In this case, the fuel is deuterium combined with Helium-3, an exceedingly rare and useful type of Helium, which is produce with a new technique that uses a unique fusion process patented by Helion Energy, obtaining it from only Deuterium, found in ordinary tap water.
  • Zap Energy, the company’s goal is to reach nuclear fusion without using magnets, stabilizing plasma using sheared flows rather than magnetic fields.
  • Lpp Fusion, in New Jersey, is developing a nuclear fusion technology which uses aneutronic hydrogen-boron (pB11) fuel.
  • First Light Fusion, spun out from the University of Oxford, is focused on inertial confinement fusion.
  • TerraPower, founded by Bill Gates, even if not focused on nuclear fusion, its project is worth mentioning. It consists of a traveling wave reactor (TWR) which could eventually eliminate the need to enrich uranium. The company is also investigating a molten salt reactor.
  • NuScale Power, an energy company based in Oregon. Although its project is not about nuclear fusion, it’s remarkably interesting too. They pretend to construct Small Modular Reactors (SMR), fission-based, with low-enriched uranium as a fuel and conventional light water cooling methods.
  • The Danish Seaborg Technologies is committed to rethink nuclear fission energy with its compact molten salt reactor design (CMSR).
Seaborg project with CMSR design proposed for 2027. Credit: https://www.seaborg.co/the-reactor
  • Terrestrial Energy, based in Canada, is working on an Integral Molten Salt Reactor design, related with nuclear fission.
  • Brilliant Light Power is a company in New Jersey which investigates a new energy source based in the unproven existence of hydrino: an atom of hydrogen where its electron is believed to be found in a level of energy under its ground level.




Physics & Math student focused on Nuclear Fusion and how it will change our lives

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This Week in Science 2017–10–22

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Alex Panera Álvarez

Alex Panera Álvarez

Physics & Math student focused on Nuclear Fusion and how it will change our lives

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