This is information from an interview with Christofer Mowry, CEO of General Fusion. The highlights are that General Fusion is rapidly pushing ahead to achieve commercialization and the next step is to make a 70% scale pilot plant that will prove out the viability of generating electricity from General Fusion’s magnetized target nuclear fusion.
This interview was conducted at C2 Montreal.
General Fusion does not need to demonstrate fusion containment because they are pulsed power system like a diesel engine or steampunk fusion.
The pilot system will prove three things:
1. Fusion conditions will be repeatably produced
2. There will be a kill chain from neutrons to electrons
3. Economics will be validated.
Simulation will be used to validate the economics and design specifics to move to a 100% system.
The next system after the 70% scale system will be a full commercial system.
The Demo system will cost several hundred million dollars. General fusion is fundraising now. Several existing funders (Jeff Bezos, Canadian and Malaysian government) are likely participants in the next round. However, the fundraising cannot have actual disclosure until it is completed. As of late 2016, General Fusion had received over $100 million in funding from a global syndicate of investors and the Canadian Government’s Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) fund.
All of the individual components have been matured enough to enable integration into a prototype pilot plant.
Over the five years of the demo plant there will be design, construction and a nominal 18 months of testing.
The plasma injector component built so far is a 2-meter plasma injector. It will be a 3-meter injector for the pilot plant.
Titanium fabrication is with GE Additive as a partner.
The current component for has 14 pistons and was not to achieve plasma compression but to work out other engineering issues.
The demo system will have several hundred pistons. Perhaps around 500.
The next system could have more or fewer pistons depending upon how experiments inform the design and how smoothly the plasma will need to be compressed.
It will be deuterium fusion.
The demo plant will not add tritium. Addition of tritium is a well-understood process and would have a predictable impact.
Tritium will be added in the follow up commercial system.
General Fusion took its PI2 plasma injector to the 2018 GLOBE Forum in Vancouver.
Christofer M. Mowry, Chief Executive Officer & Director
Chris Mowry has 30 years of global experience in the energy and infrastructure sectors, including power, oil & gas, automation, and process industries. Through his leadership he has revitalized businesses in GE and Babcock & Wilcox Company (BWC), founded disruptive energy technology company Generation mPower, and has overseen the transformation of complex international organizations.
Chris was most recently Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of General Synfuels International, Inc. (GSI), a privately held company developing in situ oil shale gasification technology that produces hydrocarbons in an economically competitive and environmentally responsible manner from oil shales. Prior to GSI, Chris was the Founder and CEO of Generation mPower, a company formed in 2011 to design, license, and deliver Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), the next generation of nuclear energy technology.
Previously, Chris was President of B&W Nuclear Energy, a division of The Babcock & Wilcox Company. Before joining B&W, Chris was the President and Chief Operating Officer of WSI, a private equity-backed field services and manufacturing company serving the energy and petrochemical industries.
Chris spent 10 years with GE Energy in various management roles, growing the firm’s automation business by 34% in two years. He began his career with the Philadelphia Electric Company, and holds a Bachelor of Science (Engineer & Astronomy) from Swarthmore College, and a Master’s of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Drexel University.
Dr. Michel Laberge, Founder and Chief Scientist
Dr. Michel Laberge is a physicist with widespread practical experience in plasma physics and modern plasma diagnostic techniques. He has extensive knowledge of the latest technologies related to electronics, computers, materials, lithography, optics and fabrication, and is experienced at designing and constructing test apparatuses to evaluate technical concepts.
Components of the General Fusion system
A magnetized target fusion system has 3 main components: a plasma injector, which supplies the fuel; an array of pistons, to compress the fuel; and a chamber of spinning liquid metal, to hold the fuel and capture the energy.
Guided by advanced computer simulation, General Fusion is developing and optimizing each of these components in preparation to build a demonstration fusion power plant.
General Fusion has built a world-class Magnetized Target Fusion research and development team consisting of over 50 research and development professionals who have demonstrated the ability to quickly and cost-effectively design, simulate, prototype, and test advanced fusion systems.
General Fusion’s science team includes PhD scientists from leading fusion research institutions including L’École Polytechnique in France, the Culham Centre for Fusion Technology in the UK, the Joint Institute for High Temperatures at the Russian Academy of Sciences, and Kyushu University in Japan.
Additionally, General Fusion has supplemented its research group with experts in regulatory affairs, project management, government relations, intellectual property, finance, and strategic business development.
Inside a General Fusion plant
By harnessing the same process that powers the sun and the stars, fusion has the potential to be a zero-emission, safe and widely available source of energy.
Fusion runs on hydrogen, and this fuel must be heated to immense temperatures – over 150 million degrees Celsius – to release its energy.
Learn how a General Fusion power plant creates fusion energy with the infographic below, followed by full explanation of how the process works.
The way a General Fusion power plant works could be compared to a diesel engine: the fuel is injected into a chamber, compressed to heat it up, and the resulting burst of energy is then captured.
To get the fusion fuel to the temperatures required for fusion, the hydrogen must first be transformed from a gas to a plasma (a process called “ionization”). In a plasma state, the fuel can be heated to much higher temperatures and can be controlled using magnetic fields.
The plasma is formed at the top of the machine, and a magnetic field then pushes it into the compression chamber. At this point the plasma is around 5 million degrees Celsius – hot, but not hot enough for fusion.
Inside the compression chamber, the plasma is surrounded by a wall of liquid metal, which will capture the energy that comes out of the reaction. On the outside of the chamber are gas-driven pistons, evenly arranged around the surface.
When these pistons push down, they compress the liquid metal wall (and the plasma trapped inside it) from all sides. As the plasma gets compressed it rapidly grows hotter, until it reaches fusion temperatures and the reaction takes place. The energy from the reaction heats up the liquid metal wall, capturing the energy so that it can be used to create electricity.
The process then repeats, with cooler liquid metal cycled back in and a new plasma pulse injected into the chamber.
General Fusion’s approach is designed from the ground up to enable a practical, commercially-viable power plant. The use of pistons provides a cost-effective and well-understood way of heating the plasma, while the pulsed function of the machine avoids needing giant magnets to keep the plasma stable for long periods of time.
The liquid metal wall is another major advantage, making it possible to get the energy out of the system and convert it to electricity. This is a particularly important part, as most fusion power plant designs do not have an effective way of extracting this energy. You can learn more about how electricity is produced from fusion energy in our infographic: Bringing fusion energy to the grid.