UK joins forces with MIT spin-out to accelerate nuclear fusion

Article by Adam Duckett

THE UK Atomic Energy Authority has joined forces with Common Fusion Systems (CFS) of the US to speed up commercialisation of nuclear fusion power.

The pair have signed a five-year collaboration deal that includes sharing lessons from fusion experiments and working together on fuel cycle technologies, systems integration models, and advanced manufacturing.

There is a global race underway to commercialise fusion power. The UKAEA, which is state-funded, and oversees fusion experiments at the JET facility in Oxfordshire, is tasked with helping the UK become a leader in the field. Last year, the UK selected five potential sites for a demonstration plant and set a target to put fusion power on the grid by 2040. CFS was spun out of MIT and is working to build a compact fusion demonstration plant made possible by high-temperature superconducting magnet technology. CFS has raised more than US$2bn in funding since it was founded in 2018 and expects that its smaller design will give it an edge by building plants more quickly at lower costs. If it can successfully demonstrate net energy production from fusion, it has set a target to begin commercialising the technology from 2025.

The push to develop and prove fusion has been decades in the making. But to date, fusion technology has not produced net energy; fusion experiments have required more energy being put in to fuse nuclei than has then come out. The potential benefits are huge. Fusion would produce carbon-free, baseload power without creating the long-lived radioactive waste that results from conventional nuclear fission plants.

Bob Mumgaard, CFS CEO, said: “CFS and UKAEA have a mutual interest and strong belief that public-private collaborations such as this represent a way to accelerate advances in commercial fusion energy technology and support CFS’ plans to deliver commercial fusion as quickly as possible.”

Ian Chapman, UKAEA CEO, said: “Achieving our shared missions to deliver low carbon and sustainable fusion energy involves working at the forefront of science, engineering, and technology. This new collaboration agreement with CFS will help push these developments and capabilities, drive innovation and accelerate progress.

A report from the Fusion Industry Association published this month highlighted the rapid growth in the sector, which saw private funding invested in the last 12 months climb 139% to US$4.7bn. Its survey of fusion companies revealed that 93% expect fusion power will be on the grid in the 2030s, up from 83% the year before.

Last week, the UKAEA announced it will build a £40m (US$48m) R&D building at its Culham Science Centre in Oxfordshire. The new building will be completed in mid-2024. This follows its agreement last year for Canada’s General Fusion to build and operate its first-of-a-kind fusion demonstration plant at the Culham campus.

Article by Adam Duckett

Editor, The Chemical Engineer

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