Fusion Energy's Potential (from EUROfusion)
Fusion, the process that powers stars like our sun, promises an inherently safe, near-limitless clean electricity source for the long term, using small amounts of fuel that can be sourced worldwide from inexpensive materials. The fusion process brings together atoms of light elements like hydrogen at high temperatures to form helium and release tremendous energy as heat, which can then be converted into electricity.
Fusion research aims to copy the process that powers the sun for a new large-scale source of low-carbon energy here on earth.
When light atoms fuse together to form heavier ones, a large amount of energy is released. To do this, a few grams of hydrogen fuels are heated to extreme temperatures, 10 times hotter than the centre of the sun, forming a plasma in which fusion reactions take place. A commercial fusion power station would use the energy produced by fusion reactions to generate electricity.
Fusion has huge potential as a low-carbon energy source. It is environmentally responsible and safe, using fuel that is abundant and sustainable. Pound for pound it releases nearly four million times more energy than burning coal, oil or gas. - courtesy EUROFusion
Fusion Update: November 2021
by Nuclear Physicist Bounder Yo
Fusion propulsion and energy technologies will be among the most transformative technologies in the 2020s and 2030s. I know what you’re thinking—“We’ve heard this before.” However, fusion technology has dramatically changed in the past couple years with over 25 companies now developing fusion technologies, 50% of which formed in the last 5 years. From 2021 to 2022 private investment into fusion energy research and startups increased by $2.8 B. That represents a total investment into the private fusion energy sector of $4.8 Billion total to date. With more than half coming in the past year alone!
Out of Date Already! Doubled in just the last 2 months!
Why Fusion? Why Now?
Fusion energy is desperately needed for two very important reasons: increasing global energy demand and climate change. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimated that worldwide energy demand will soar 50% higher by 2050. Several solutions are being pursued which include renewables, conservation, energy storage, increased transmission, and carbon capture and sequestration. While I agree with all of these approaches and we should be investing heavily in each one, I haven’t seen evidence that those alone will solve our crisis in a way that is economical to maintain our current way of living. I want to make it very clear though. I believe in conservation. I believe in renewables. I believe in energy storage (whether batteries, hydrogen, or other). I just don’t believe it will be enough especially while a good segment of the planet is also trying to acquire the same standards of living as the developed world. The world requires a baseload power capability that can be turned off and turned on when needed without emitting greenhouse gases. Fission power could be a solution but has issues (whether real or perceived) with price, safety, proliferation, and long-term waste. Fusion is the answer! As with most world changing breakthroughs, fusion is benefiting from multiple enabling technologies all being matured at the same time. These enabling technologies include new understandings and capabilities in the fields of plasma science, High Temperature Superconductors (HTS), high performance computing, robotics, and new materials and additive manufacturing for use in high temperature, high magnetic field, and neutron irradiation environments.
Fusion Energy Overview
Fusion propulsion and energy technologies will be among the most transformative technologies in the 2020s and 2030s. Fusion technology has dramatically changed in the past 5 years as shown in the figures below. However, very little funding has been deployed for fusion space propulsion which has the tremendous advantage of potential high specific impulse (Isp) and high thrust. Fusion space propulsion will be truly game changing for large orbital transfers of already deployed satellites along with space travel beyond cislunar. As you’ll see, the potential benefits for both terrestrial and extra-terrestrial applications is truly history changing and will be forever remembered as one of the great advancements in humankind. It’s about time we accelerate fusion development efforts. A word of caution before reading further. The following discussion is purposely top level to allow for general consumption and to protect sensitive information. A fusion enthusiast should be able to quickly use this information to dig further if so desired. The figures are courtesy of the Fusion Industry Association (FIA)/United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA)’s report titled, “The Global Fusion Industry in 2021.”
What are the Current Approaches?
The top 5 privately funded companies include Tokamak Energy (U.K.), Commonwealth Fusion Systems (U.S.), General Fusion (Canada), TAE Technologies (U.S.), and Helion Energy (U.S.). Those 5 companies account for over 85% of all private fusion funding. Two public tokamak efforts include the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) which is a $20 billion global effort and the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) in the U.K. All of these approaches fall into two technology categories: Tokamaks and Field Reserved Configurations (FRC). These efforts are all important and reasonably capitalized but many other worthwhile efforts could use funding. Because combating climate change is the greatest challenge of our lifetimes, we need to invest in as many viable technologies as possible.
Potential FrontierDAO Grants
Because of the sensitivity of the discussions with commercial companies, specific company's funding needs and cost estimates are not mentioned here, however cost estimates are based on the amounts of funding required to progress the technologies to a point where potentially other private funding companies become interested and the next round of funding requests are successful. FrontierDAO may still remain involved in these efforts or they may be transitioned to the next phase of investors. Here is a short list of areas where small funds could go a long way:
1) Terrestrial Energy ($75 million). Terrestrial energy technologies (outside the big 5 companies) that could use increased funding include Pinches, other Plasma Structures, and Inertial Confinement. Recommended allocations: $45 million towards inertial confinement fusion commercial concepts (U.S., U.K., Germany, and/or Australia); $20 million towards plasma structure sand/or magnetic confinement(U.S., France, and/or Germany); $10 million towards pinch based confinement (U.S.).
2) Fusion Space Propulsion ($20 million). The amount of funding for fusion space propulsion efforts right now is incredibly small. Multiple efforts are attempting to gain funding from both government and private capital sources; however, the success rate has been limited. Space propulsion technologies may be significantly different than terrestrial applications because of lower size, lower power requirements, and the ability to use outgassed material as thrust. Recommended allocations: $20 million for space propulsion efforts (U.S. and/or U.K.).
3) Enabling Technologies or Other Concepts ($5 million). A multitude of worthwhile research opportunities exist in high temperature superconductors, GaO semiconductors, and new alloys for use in a high neutron, high temperature, and high magnetic field environments. Recommended allocations: $5 million for research into high temperature superconductors (HTS), GaO materials, and other efforts (worldwide).
4) Others. FrontierDAO continues to look for more worthwhile projects. If you have one, please send us a note and information to evaluate the science.
We can do this.
We can come together as a planet to solve this challenge.
We have to.
There is no choice.