The Conversation claim nuclear fusion is back again. Nextbigfuture has been constantly tracking nuclear fusion and advanced nuclear fission every week for the past 13 years.
The popular question is when will we have commercial nuclear fusion that has a significant impact on the energy production of the world?
MIT has spunout a tokomak fusion project into Commonwealth Fusion systems. They want to apply modular designs to high-temperature superconductors. They want to get to stronger magnets that will shrink the size and cost of the potential nuclear fusion reactor. Improved magnets would improve any nuclear fusion design that involves confinement of plasma. There is less science risk to this MIT approach but more technological risk. They are trying to accelerate the commercial use of high-temperature superconducting magnets and trying to contain their costs. Cost for superconducting magnets for past fusion projects have been $20 per watt but other applications have seen costs of $1.4 to $1.8 per watt.
Updated Prospects for Commercial Nuclear Fusion>
I have had several articles summarizing the prospects for commercial nuclear fusion
The ITER project and the national ignition projects are decades away according to their own timelines. They are really counting on advanced superconductors to reduce the size and improve projected cost and performance. The Commonwealth Fusion systems is an effort to bring advanced superconductors into the equation and to prove out some of the fifteen to twenty major outstanding major technical challenges.
Helion Energy got funding increased towards tens of millions instead of a few million. John Slough works out of the University of Washington. There have been no major announcements on this project for the past two years.
They would need $200 million for a commercial pilot plant. Their timeline has likely slipped a few years.
Prototypes every two years
Delays and risks with nuclear fusion mean the best hope for better nuclear energy is molten salt nuclear fission.
Terrestrial Energy is developing a 190 megawatt small modular molten salt reactor that will cost less than $1 billion to build. This will result in kilowatt-per-hour costs of less than 5 cents, a price competitive with power from natural gas.
Terrestrial Energy of Canada has signed a contract for technical services with the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) in Karlsruhe, Germany. JRC will perform confirmatory studies of the fuel and primary coolant salt mixture for Terrestrial’s Integrated Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR).
Molten salt would have vastly reduced nuclear waste and advanced designs could eventually eliminate nuclear waste by closing the fuel cycle and using all of the uranium and plutonium.
There are several other molten salt nuclear reactor and advanced nuclear fission efforts.
* Costs for nuclear energy can be reduced.
* safety can be increased
* nuclear waste – unburned fuel – can be used
High power lasers improving 1000 times every decade
Two recent scientific breakthroughs have opened a new way to laser fusion reactions according to startup HB11 Energy. It involves the reaction between hydrogen H and the boron isotope 11 (HB11) as uncompressed solid state fuel within an extremely high trapping magnetic field. Both of these conditions have been demonstrated by experiments and following predictions from computations.
This has many unknowns in terms of the science but the ultra-high power laser pathway has the advantage of constant and rapidly improving power with short pulse lasers. This technical improvement in well funded underlying technology is something that means that this approach can emerge as the winning approach within 8-15 years.
* a 1 kilojoule laser boosts a magnetic field to 4500-10000 Tesla for over one nanosecond. About 100 times stronger than powerful superconducting magnets
* a second laser causes a nuclear fusion chain reaction
* lab experiments have been performed which indicate fusion yields increase by a billion times.
* energy production with a proposed system would be four times cheaper than coal
A research paper claims experimentally confirmed reaction gains one billion times higher than the classical values, placing it far ahead any DT fusion approaches.
HB11 energy expects to be able to provide energy for about ¼ of the price of coal-fired power, without any carbon emissions or radioactive by-products, which will be disruptive to the power industry.
The specific evaluation of elastic collisions of the generated alphas with protons and boron nuclei documented how the hydrogen nuclei receive an energy within a wide range around 600 keV energy, for reacting with the 11B nuclei at nearly ten times higher fusion cross sections compared with all known other fusion reactions, to produce each three alphas etc. for the avalanche. The measurements with the nuclei for the energetic HB11 reactions on the background of less than few ten eV background plasma, could be theoretical reproduced in details. This shows the need to explore this kind of non-ideal and non-neutral plasmas. The earlier estimations of the anticipated avalanche reactions was then fully proved for use. Under simplified assumptions, the reaction of 12 mg boron fuel can produce one GJ = 277 kWh or more fusion energy, ignited in a controlled way by the one single ps irradiated laser beams in the reactor. The easy operation with one beam ignition should then permit a reactor with one shot per second and sufficiently fast localization of the reaction unit using presently available technology for low-cost power generation. The now presented results show an increase of the HB11 fusion gains by more than nine orders of magnitudes above the classical value.
Most of the venture-funded possibilities for breakthrough nuclear fusion have stalled or have slow progress
LPP Fusion (Lawrenceville Plasma Physics) – the target is to make LPP Fusion with a commercial system 4 years after net energy gain is proved. The hope is two years to prove net energy gain. Then 2021-2026 for a commercial reactor (2026 if we allow for another 5 years of slippage). They could lower energy costs by ten times.
LPP fusion has raised another $665K recently. This will fund their Beryllium electrode experiments which they hope to prove net energy gain.
LPP Fusion is very public about their research. They are minimally funded with a few million. They are trying to get tungsten and beryllium anodes and cathodes to work for their dense plasma focus design. Think of an advanced spark plug design. They are trying to get a handle on contamination from the firings. They are looking to coat their chamber with titanium. They have to up the amperage to about 3-4 megaamps.
LPP Fusion continues to have funding and science risks.
General Fusion- has a steam punk like design with giant pistons striking a sphere with molten metal and plasmoids. They have Jeff Bezos funding as well as the Canadian and Malaysian government. They were targeting 2023 with 4 cents per kwh. They no longer have a published time target or price target.
They have to scale up and reach their net gain objectives. Things would have to start moving a lot faster and money and the team would have to increase at least 30 times for a path to success by 2030.
TAE Technology has had the best funding of the venture-funded nuclear fusion. They had raised well over $500 million.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.