Canadian Company Has Funding for Fusion Demonstration Plant

A Canada-based company that wants to commercialize nuclear fusion technology announced Dec. 16 that it raised more than $100 million in its latest round of financing, doubling its financial support.

General Fusion, headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia, is backed by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. The company, which includes investors Bezos Expeditions and Chrysalix Venture Capital, as well as Microsoft, now has attracted more than $200 million in financing. The company in a statement Monday said it will receive $65 million in Series E financing led by Temasek Holdings Pte of Singapore, and $38 million from Canada’s Strategic Innovation Fund.

General Fusion, established in 2002 and with offices in Washington, D.C., and London in the UK, is among about two dozen companies working to commercialize nuclear fusion technology, which has been researched for decades but has faced technical hurdles. The technology relies on the same process that powers stars, by generating large amounts of energy by fusing small atoms into larger ones. Its promise lies in the possibility of producing inexpensive, carbon-free energy. (Read “Fusion Power: Watching, Waiting, as Research Continues” in the August 2018 issue of POWER.)

“The world is pivoting toward fusion as the necessary complement to other technologies which, collectively, will enable the carbon-free energy future we all need,” Christofer Mowry, General Fusion’s CEO, said in a statement. “The success of our financing is further evidence that the global stakeholders in this endeavor are leaning into this challenge with action. We are proud and honored that Temasek and our other investors have demonstrated their confidence in General Fusion with this funding.”

The company in a news release Monday said its current funding “enables the Company to formally launch the program to design, construct, and subsequently operate its Fusion Demonstration Plant.” It said that “prototype facility is intended to confirm the performance of General Fusion’s magnetized target fusion technology in a power plant relevant environment.” The company hopes to have the test facility in operation by 2023.

Most of the companies working on nuclear fusion are developing designs with the hope of generating power in the next decade. Scientists and engineers from 35 countries have been working on a large-scale fusion reactor in France (Figure 1), a $25 billion project known as the ITER Tokomak, since 2010. The group, in a November news release from the ITER Council, said it is working toward First Plasma by year-end 2025. The group said “project execution to achieve First Plasma is now more than 65% complete.”

1. Construction continues at the ITER site in Provence, France, in October 2019. There are 35 countries involved in the project, which began in 2010. Courtesy: ITER Organization

First Plasma means that a reactor is able to successfully generate a molten mass of electrically charged gas, or plasma, inside its core.

A nuclear fusion facility differs from conventional nuclear power plants, which use fission technology. Fission generates energy as atoms are split into smaller elements. Fission systems, unlike fusion systems, produce radioactive waste.

A fusion reactor fuses hydrogen together with atoms under heat and pressure, creating the heavier atom helium, and releasing energy. The energy is theoretically safer and cleaner than conventional nuclear fission reactors, but fusion requires large amounts of energy to create superheated plasma. This is achieved using a giant device called a tokamak that holds the plasma in a magnetic field.

General Fusion’s process relies on hundreds of pistons surrounding its plasma source to create the fusion reaction with pressure. This is less costly than the mainstream method, but the design has not been tested at scale.

Darrell Proctor is a POWER associate editor (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine).

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