Fluor to Bolster Commercialization of Laser Fusion Power

Engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) giant Fluor Corp. will serve as an engineering and construction partner to design and plan laser fusion power plants developed by Longview Fusion Energy Systems—a company leveraging the recent fusion breakthrough at the National Ignition Facility (NIF).

Fluor on April 18 announced it signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Longview Fusion Energy Systems to help the Orinda, California–based company achieve its mission to demonstrate the feasibility of laser fusion technology and deliver it to the commercial market.

Under the MOU, Fluor will leverage its global experience in developing and constructing complex, large-scale facilities to provide preliminary design and engineering to support the development of Longview’s fusion-powered plant,” Fluor said.

Longview’s laser fusion power plants are based directly on the experimental demonstration of fusion ignition at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s (LLNL’s) NIF. The company is notably headed by Dr. Edward Moses, former NIF & NIF Photon Science principal associate director, who managed the design and construction of the NIF from 2007 to 2013. Under his watch, NIF began full operations in March 2009 and quickly set world records for neutron yield from laser-driven fusion fuel capsules and laser energy delivered to inertial confinement fusion (ICF) targets.

NIF, the size of a sports stadium, today uses its 192 powerful laser beams to create pressures and temperatures intense enough to fuse the nuclei of hydrogen atoms—and release many times more energy than the laser energy required to initiate a reaction. The complex reaction is known as “fusion ignition.”

The NIF, the world’s most energetic laser, squeezes together a type of hydrogen so that it becomes 100 times denser than lead and at a temperature of 100 million degrees, bringing star power to earth,” explained Longview.

After a steady increase in energy yield, NIF on Dec. 5, 2022, successfully achieved ignition, marking scientific energy breakeven—meaning “it produced more energy from fusion than the laser energy used to drive it,” LLNL said. The NIF experiment in December, remarkably, far surpassed the ignition threshold by producing 3.15 MJ of fusion energy output from 2.05 MJ of laser energy delivered to the target.

The target chamber of LLNL’s National Ignition Facility, where 192 laser beams delivered more than 2 million joules of ultraviolet energy to a tiny fuel pellet to create fusion ignition on Dec. 5, 2022. Source: LLNL

Days after the 2022 breakthrough, Moses and a partner, Valerie Roberts, announced that their company, Longview Fusion Energy Systems, would combine the NIF’s laser fusion breakthrough “with modern, efficient lasers and a patented design to replicate these conditions several hundred times a minute—similar to the repetitive pulses in a car engine but delivering over one million horsepower.”

Longview has said it anticipates a laser fusion power plant groundbreaking “in five years.” On Tuesday, the company revealed it is pursuing an “accelerated plan to complete design and engineering” for its laser fusion power plants, which could have a full capacity of 1 GW to 1.6 GW. On its website, the company outlines a plan that anticipates the completion of a pilot plant in the early 2030s and global market penetration between 2030 and 2050.

Fluor’s involvement in the project is notable given the professional and technical solutions firm’s controlling interest in NuScale, a light water small modular reactor (SMR) technology firm. Fluor is also a contractor in the 462-MWe Carbon-Free Power Project (CFPP), a first-of-its-kind six-module NuScale Power VOYGR-6 under development at an Idaho National Laboratory (INL) site in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

Fluor, however, embarked on a reverse recapitalization of its NuScale business in May 2022, prompting NuScale to launch as a publicly traded company. “We remain a majority owner of NuScale and are considering the appropriate time and approach to monetize our investment,” Fluor noted in a recent integrated report. This is the only Nuclear Regulatory Commission-approved SMR technology. As a majority shareholder, we anticipate this investment will be accretive to Fluor shareholders through future monetization and engineering contracts to support NuScale’s clients.”

Fluor has acknowledged that aside from NuScale, it generally does not engage in significant research and development activities. Its participation in Longview stems from ambitions to develop experience in technology poised to reshape the energy space, it said.

“Fluor is a leader in designing and building solutions to create a sustainable future and our partnership with Longview Fusion Energy Systems builds upon that experience,” said Tom D’Agostino, group president of Fluor’s Mission Solutions business. “From developing and constructing large-scale energy facilities to designing, building and operating complex chemical processing and innovative industrial projects, our expertise helps clients reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve energy efficiency and deliver cleaner, decarbonized projects.”

Sonal Patel is a POWER senior associate editor (@sonalcpatel@POWERmagazine).

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