Ally Winning, European Editor, PSD
In this magazine, we tend to concentrate on renewable energy resources as that is when most modern innovation comes from. The companies I usually talk to also focus in that direction, for example, last week I talked to Infineon about the company’s newly developed CoolSiC module that accommodates both wind energy and EV charging, fulfilling the requirements for two industries with one product. But there are other ways of providing energy that don’t get so much attention although they could offer real solutions to the generation of electricity and supplement renewables.
One such type of energy generation is fusion power, which generates electricity using nuclear fusion reaction. The fusion reaction process forces two atomic nuclei together to provide a heavier nucleus and released energy. Fusion happens over time using plasma at a sufficient temperature and pressure. The energy output by the fused nuclei helps sustain the required temperature, keeping the reaction ongoing. In practice, fusion reactors often use hydrogen isotopes like deuterium and tritium as fuel because they react easier than individual protons, which allows the reaction to occur without needing extreme heat or pressure. Nuclear fusion has many advantages over nuclear fission, including less radiation, less nuclear waste, easier access to fuel, and better safety.
The problem so far with fusion power is getting it to work on a commercial scale. Creating and containing the plasma at the temperature and pressure to sustain the reaction at a viable level is proving difficult. The latest attempt to work towards that goal has just been announced in the UK. General Fusion, a Canadian company that has been backed by Jeff Bezos, has entered into a long-term agreement with UKAEA to construct and operate a new Fusion Demonstration Plant (FDP) at Culham, Oxfordshire. Culham is also home to the UK's national fusion research programme. The FDP is intended to demonstrate the viability of General Fusion’s Magnetized Target Fusion (MTF) process and lay the groundwork for the company’s future commercial operations. The FDP, which should be operational by 2025, will be 70% the size of a commercial reactor. Work will begin on the plant next year.
The Magnetized Target Fusion (MTF) technology uses a liquid metal technique, which was developed by General Fusion, to capture the energy from the fusion reaction. The metal is sent through a heat exchanger to produce steam, which then drives a turbine to create electricity. The company has also developed a SliC injector to create the plasma in the liquid metal cavity. The SliC injector brings together the plasma and the liquid metal, integrating the two key innovations of the company’s fusion technology.
Fusion power may not happen commercially soon, but the technology has the potential to safely fill in the gaps in the capabilities of renewable power sources, especially if sufficient storage technologies are not developed fully in the near term. General Fusion’s FDP is a real forward step in its development, and hopefully brings the technology closer than ever.