Commonwealth Fusion Gets $50 Million in More Funding

Commonwealth Fusion Systems has raised another $50 million and most of the financing will go toward construction of the full-scale superconducting magnet technology Commonwealth Fusion uses to contain its reactions.

They will build a far smaller tokamak fusion system using stronger superconducting magnets.

The ultimate goal is to build a fusion reactor that can generate 50 megawatts of energy either as heat or to create electricity using a steam turbine.

They want to build a significant prototype system in a few years (by 2025) and build a full-scale commercial system by about 2033.

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.

Other Fusion Companies With Aggressive Timelines

TAE Technologies is now saying they being commercialization efforts by 2023.
General Fusion is saying that they could have commercial nuclear fusion within ten years.

LPP Fusion continues its work on dense plasma fusion.

28 thoughts on “Commonwealth Fusion Gets $50 Million in More Funding”

  1. Yes,
    The primary school teachers teach the possessive apostrophe, but usually skip the fact that it doesn’t apply to pronouns.

    His, Hers, Its. No apostrophe.

    So I’ll grant that getting that one wrong may well be excused. You could have listened and payed attention in school and still not been taught that.

  2. I’m more interested in the limit here, where you don’t have any carbon-emitting capacity or, if you do, it’s only spun-up for 3- and 4-sigma bad weather. Things get exponentially harder the further you decarbonize, because the amount of storage you need to make a reliable grid goes up exponentially.

    If flow batts really turn out to be a matter of enough reaction cells to meet your capacity, backed by an indefinitely large storage tank for the charged electrolytes to handle the energy, then that might easily change the equation. I’ll remain cautious until we see things at scale.

    I’m still intrigued by Energy Vault, the people with the big tower of concrete blocks that they stack to store energy and then drop by crane to turn a generator when they need the juice. It sounds just dumb enough that it might actually work at scale.

  3. I sympathize with the misuse of its/it’s, because we’re also taught that apostrophe-s is how you form the possessive of a lot of nouns, and “its” is the possessive pronoun, not “it’s”. Confusing.

    Nevertheless, for “it”, when forming its possessive, it’s wrong to use “it’s”. (See what I did there?)

  4. Hmm. Haven’t done that calculation.

    D-T yields 14.1 MeV in neutron energy and 3.5 MeV in He4 energy, which also eventually leaks out as heat and can be used. So 17.6 MeV per D-T reaction, which is 2.82E-12 J/reaction.

    1 GWe is–what?–2.5 GWt? So we need 7.66E25 reactions per day. That’s 127.2 moles of tritium per day, or 382 g.

    Yeah, close enough to your number.

    But if you’re worried about groundwater contamination, tritiated water is actually pretty easy to contain. So anything that leaks is likely gaseous, and that’s considerably less hazardous.

    The tritium breeding, separation, and storage process is an area of very low technology readiness. I suppose you could wind up with some safety showstopper when the tech was all worked out, but it doesn’t seem likely.

    Beyond that, let’s figure out how much T is in the reactor at any one time. D-T power density is 34 W/m^3/kPa^2. If we assume that an ARC-scale reactor generates 2.5 GWt, and it’s basically spherical with a major radius of 4 m, then that’s about 270 m^3; call it 200 m^3 of reactive volume. Pressure = sqrt(power/(power “density” * volume)), so that requires 6 bar of pressure in the reactor–which sounds about right. (Current reactors go to about 2 bar of plasma pressure.)

    PV = nRT (wildly inappropriate application of the ideal gas law here…). T = 157.8M K for D-T, so n = 0.09 mol of reactants = 0.045 mol of tritium ions = 0.14 g of tritium in the reactor at any one time.

    That sounds manageable.

  5. Everything else? The USA is 56% coal and gas.

    EDIT: Flow batteries can add energy storage cheaply once you pay for the front end equipment. So $150/kWh for the first 4 kilowatt-hours and $50/kWh for every hour after per the link below by 2022. Their main weakness is 80% round trip vs. batteries at 95%.

  6. A D-T tokamak would need 500 grams per day for a gigawatt reactor. One gram leaked would contaminate 1 million acre-feet of aquifer water assuming it’s already at half the limit, which go for as much as $1000 per acre-foot in say arid parts of Colorado. Potentially a billion dollars worth of water affected.
    You can argue current tritium standards are too strict but that doesn’t make D-T reactors suddenly super safe by current regulatory standards. They’re still on par with a chemical plant…potentially far worse with regards to water contamination. Cue the NIMBYs.

  7. It’s a good idea, we just need a small black hole to get the gravity containment working at a power plant level scale.

  8. Its/it’s

    there are a lot of issues in modern writing.

    Now, to be fair, there is a good excuse in that you aren’t taught this … EXCEPT for the 12 years of formal schooling that is mandatory so there is no excuse at all for anyone from an english speaking country.

  9. What’s the other 25% of your capacity? If you’re running a decarbonized grid, then you need to get to 100% with decarbonized capacity.

    And what do you mean by “past the first 6 hours”? What are you using for the first 6 hours?

    If you can really get flow batts to $50/kWh, then I agree that that reduces the cost quite a bit. But they’re basically undeployed at scale, and the most recent Lazard capital cost estimates are more like $400/kWh–before you add in all the power conversion and charging equipment.

    The problem with renewables continues to be that things get much, much harder as you push them to be a larger and larger percentage of your grid, because the amount of backing storage has to go up to get you out of the 3- and 4-sigma bad weather problems. And gas turbines for backup, with tiny capacity factors, are just as expensive as the storage..

    On the other hand, renewables are dynamite as peakers with a fairly small amount of storage behind them. But that means that you have to have something soaking up a lot of the baseload–which was pretty much my point.

  10. It’s also present in only minute quantities, has a beta decay energy that’s a bit more than a hard x-ray with less penetration, and has a half-life of 12 years.

    Fusion plants are likely to have more trouble with neutron activation than with tritium. To compare them to fission plants is silly.

  11. Not so. Any fusion plant that proposes to run on tritium will have just as much red tape (well, maybe a smidge less) as a fission plant. Tritium is incredibly easy to leak and hard to handle.

  12. You should revisit your price modeling with a 60% wind+solar plus storage with 15% gas turbine (biomass sourced). Flow batteries are hitting $50 per kilowatt-hour in 5 years for incremental storage past the first 6 hours.
    You’re at double the actual price.
    EDIT: and high storage amounts halve the grid costs, which is half your bill already.

  13. Realistically, MCF is the only game in town. ICF requires Q>100 to be even close to net energy positive (because Q measure the energy balance in the plasma, but you also have to factor in the losses in the drive train, and lasers are terrible), and IEC is unfortunately snake-oil. Maybe there will be a magnetized target approach that will work (I’m quite fond of MagLIF), but none of them are very close at this point.

    There are lots of viable MCF systems that aren’t ITER, but only MCF is closing in on Q>1. The thing I like about SPARC is that it’s the leanest and meanest use of the REBCO tapes that’s floating around out there.

  14. Just tryin’ to be folksy, y’all.

    Now, if you’d like to start in on “its” vs. “it’s”, I’m all over that one…

  15. Progress in the physics performance of tokamaks ceased in the 80s due entirely to size. Given the strength of contemporaneous superconducting magnets, ITER needed to be the size it is, nothing smaller will work. If you want smaller reactors, stronger magnets is a perquisite, anything is a fantasy.

    ITER gets 500x more money than the average program with roughly 1.25 times the success of the average competing program.

    ITER is still under construction, it’s not operating. It’s the only one that is capable of net fusion energy on paper.

    There is not a plasma physicist specializing in fusion who will agree that ITER is the only realistic game in town or ever was.

    Which plasma physicist wants to admit they will waste their entire careers with no real possibility of ultimate success(net fusion energy). They’ve been doing plasma physics for 60 years, net fusion energy was never a viable possibility.

  16. so, for the last 60(?) odd years this boondoggle has been trying to replicate the fusion of a star (spherical) with a tokamak (toroidal) and it’s still not working? why is anyone surprised by this?

  17. Death of adverb is a thing for me. it’s a trend I don’t like. My grammar can be poor here on this site… no worries

  18. You mean “the blogs”. Anyone who is aware of a little of the blogs. ITER gets 500x more money than the average program with roughly 1.25 times the success of the average competing program. There is not a plasma physicist specializing in fusion who will agree that ITER is the only realistic game in town or ever was. There’s a reason we’ve been doing MCF, ICF and IEC for 60 years and it’s not that everyone is dumber than you.

  19. Oooooo, a hot tub!

    (And: What? You don’t like my adverb reduction strategy?)

    There’s no doubt that the inherent operational complexity of a fusion nuke is massive compared to a fission nuke. But the fusion nuke is inherently fail-safe against big accidents, and the fission nuke isn’t. High operational complexity gets commoditized quickly, especially when coupled with low safety complexity. High safety complexity, however, is hard to commoditize and drives the NIMBYs and BANANAs out of their minds.

  20. Anyone who is aware of a little of the science would have realized that ITER was heretofore the only realistic game in town, the possibilities have changed since REBCO tapes became industrially available.

  21. “Things can go from silly to slam dunk obvious awful[ly] quick[ly]”

    If you say so.

    Meanwhile, if we were to literally drop 3 PWR fuel assemblies into my own swimming pool, we’d have a nuclear reactor (as you know).

  22. If you really need to decarbonize completely, renewables + storage have an LCOE well over $120/MWh to get close to the required reliability, and new nukes come in at something close to $90. (What are sunk-cost nukes these days? $20?)

    It remains to be seen whether fusion will trigger a full-up nuclear freakout like fission does, but I’m guessing that it’s vastly easier to overcome the fear. Even if overnight $/kW is the same for fusion as it is for fission, squeezing 10-15 years of licensing and litigation down to, say, 3 years is worth an awful lot of amortization.

    Fusion volumetric power density is terrible with low temperature superconductors, because the necessary volume jacks the cost up into the stratosphere. But the power density scales as the magnetic field^4, so learning to deal with these high-temperature superconductors is the whole ball game here. With that kind of scaling law, things can go from silly to slam-dunk obvious awful quick.

  23. You should look at one of the talks they did:

    (I should have it cued up to the most interesting part, but the whole talk is worth watching if you have an hour.)

    This is a very conservative machine. It doesn’t use any of the fancy plasma modes. It doesn’t solve a lot of really hard problems. Its sole purpose is to get well above breakeven as quickly as possible, using the plasma physics we already know about. It’s the Minimum Viable Product strategy, extended to fusion. (Except it’s not really a viable product yet; it’s a demonstration that a viable product can exist.)

  24. I’m waiting for the moment they demonstrate gain and then look around and realize they can’t compete with the two breeds of dirt burners in use (coal and fission) or even the intermittent toys.

  25. “To do list :

    Net energy gain.

    Note – Others are not going to do this soon”

    Yeah, no kidding. I somehow doubt these jokers are going to manage it either.

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