Canada invests in fusion technology

1 November 2018

The Canadian government has announced a CAD49.3 million ($37.5m) investment in General Fusion. The funding will help General Fusion create technology and support its project to develop a first-of-its-kind large-scale prototype plant that will demonstrate a practical approach to commercialising electricity from fusion energy. “General Fusion’s technology has the potential to revolutionise how sustainable energy is generated and position British Columbia—and Canada—as a global leader in fusion technology,” the announcement said.

The federal investment through the Strategic Innovation Fund will enable General Fusion “to expand its collaboration with post-secondary institutions and employ inclusive hiring practices”.  Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains said  General Fusion has the  potential to transform how the world generates abundant clean energy, which will help to reduce environmental impacts.  Minister of National Defence Singh Sajjan said: “Innovative companies such as General Fusion are a key part of our government’s plan to grow the economy and create well-paying middle-class jobs for British Columbians.”  

General Fusion CEO Christofer Mowry said the investment is evidence of the government’s commitment to meeting climate change goals while fostering sustainable growth.

General Fusion, founded in 2002, will invest at least CAD150 million in Research and Development with the potential for over CAD250 million in additional investment for the construction of a demonstration plant. It is the only Canadian company working to commercialise fusion technology.

General Fusion, based in Vancouver (Canada) and Washington DC (USA), is funded by a global syndicate of leading energy venture capital firms, industry leaders, and technology pioneers, including Chrysalix Energy Venture Capital, Bezos Expeditions, Khazanah Nasional Berhad, Cenovus Energy, Growthworks, Braemar Energy Ventures, BDC, Entrepreneurs Fund, SET Ventures, Sustainable Development Technology Canada, and The Strategic Innovation Fund.

General Fusion’s next step is to make a 70% scale pilot plant that will prove the viability of generating electricity from its magnetised target nuclear fusion. A magnetised target fusion system has three key 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.  General Fusion is using computer simulation to help develop and optimise each of these components to build a demonstration fusion power plant.

The pilot system will prove three things: fusion conditions will be repeatably produced; there will be a kill chain from neutrons to electrons, and economics will be validated. Simulations will be used to confirm the economics and design specifics. The next system after the 70% scale system will be a full commercial system.

This demo system will cost several hundred million dollars. General Fusion is fundraising now, and several existing funders (Jeff Bezos, the Canadian and Malaysian governments) are likely participants in the next round, said Mowry.  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. They now have another CAD49 million from the government of Canada.

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-metre plasma injector. There will be a 3-metre injector for the pilot plant. Titanium fabrication is with GE Additive as a partner. The current component for has 14 pistons and was not intended to achieve plasma compression but to work out other engineering issues. The demo system will have several hundred pistons - possibly 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.

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