Officials Give Go-Ahead for UK-Based Fusion Power Project

A prototype fusion power plant designed by a UK-based architectural and design firm has been approved by local regulators. The South Oxfordshire District Council’s planning committee on Jan. 11 gave the go-ahead to a project led by renowned architect Amanda Levete.

Levete’s AL_A group is expected to build the prototype, developed by Canada’s General Fusion, at the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s (UKAEA’s) Culham Campus south of Oxford. The approval comes about one month after scientists at the Lawrence Livermore national lab in California achieved a net energy gain from a fusion reaction for the first time.

There are no fusion-based power plants, though the promise of fusion has existed for decades. General Fusion said the UK project will be used to model and explain the technology, which in theory could produce limitless, zero-carbon power.

This is a video of General Fusion’s Demonstration Plant that will be built in the UK.

AL_A first detailed its concept proposals for a test-bed fusion facility in 2021. The Oxfordshire council’s green light for the project is a milestone for the group, which counts Amazon founder Jeff Bezos among its financial backers.

General Fusion said the prototype is part of the company’s effort to make fusion energy a “world-saving reality” and to create an “emotional connection” between the technology and the general public.

The AL_A demonstration plant would “show off fusion energy to the world by inviting it in, prompting questions, promoting dialogue, and providing opportunities to learn,” and also creating “a place where the sustainable clean energy future is fully experienced.”

UK-based architectural and design firm AL_A said it has received approval to build a proposed fusion power demonstration plant for Canada’s General Fusion at the Culham Science Centre in South Oxfordshire. Source: General Fusion

The UK plant will feature General Fusion’s magnetized target fusion, or MTF, technology, in advance of work on future commercial energy-producing facilities. The 10,500 m2 demonstration project will be built to a 70% scale of a commercial power plant, the company said, creating fusion conditions “in a power plant-relevant environment” in a process calling for temperatures of more than 100 million degrees Celsius.

Want to learn more about fusion technology? Check out this edition of The POWER Podcast, “Could Fusion Energy Transform the Power Industry By 2035?” Also read this POWER Interview with a leading researcher in the field and “Fusion Energy Is Coming, and Maybe Sooner Than You Think,” which touches on fusion basics, and goes into greater detail on other research that’s being done and some of the challenges to commercialization of fusion technology.

An AL_A spokesperson said the project’s design is a “direct reflection of the processes and equipment it will house,” and also said it was “conceived as an extension of the fusion machine [with] the radial arrangement providing maximum operational efficiency.”

The building will include a 38-meter-high cylindrical, concrete fusion hall that will house General Fusion’s MTF machine. The machine will be wrapped with a “delicate, translucent fabric” that is designed to “soften the building’s appearance, and optimize natural ventilation.”

Levete, who founded AL_A in 2009, said the approval is a “huge milestone and testament to the close collaboration between the team, General Fusion and UKAEA. The building will not only be highly efficient but one that expresses the technological optimism of fusion to solve the energy problems of the world. The design projects a confident message to the public about the extraordinary potential of this technology. It represents a clear shift in the relationship between environment and industry, moving from one of opposition to one of symbiosis.”

General Fusion, headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia, was founded in 2002 by Canadian physicist Dr. Michel Laberge. The company is funded by what is described as a global syndicate of “leading energy venture capital firms, industry leaders, and technology pioneers.”

AL_A said construction work at the Oxfordshire site could begin this summer. The current timeline calls for the fusion machine to be commissioned in 2026, and be fully operational the following year.

Darrell Proctor is a senior associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).

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