The US government has announced that it will provide up to $50 million in rewards to private nuclear fusion companies to develop this clean, near-limitless form of energy.
Funding will be available to for-profit fusion companies expected to deliver pre-concept nuclear fusion reactor designs within 18 months of receiving their award.
After that, additional funding will be available for companies as long as they are able to meet development milestones.
Nuclear fusion refers to the process of joining two atomic nuclei under intense heat and pressure to create a single new nucleus. It’s the same process that powers our sun, where hydrogen atoms are forced together to become helium.
When this happens, the mass of the resulting single nucleus is slightly less than the combined mass of the two individual nuclei previously. This remaining mass is released as energy that can be harnessed.
Scientists have been trying to replicate this process and harness its power for decades, with the first attempt to create a reactor in 1938. Fusion would provide a clean and abundant source of energy with more power and less radioactive waste than existing nuclear power plants.
All sorts of machines have been invented to artificially replicate fusion, one of the most common being a tokamak. A tokamak reactor sustains fusion by confining a beam of superheated charged plasma in a circle. Other approaches have involved powerful lasers and even a giant gun.
But so far no one has been able to get more power out of a fusion reactor than the power needed to run it, and it has also proven difficult to sustain a reaction for long periods of time. .
Today, fusion energy may be more relevant than ever as Russia seeks to weaponize its influence in global energy markets, cutting off gas flows to Europe amid war in Ukraine. . In addition, this summer’s extreme weather events have served as a sobering reminder that the climate crisis will only get worse without major changes in human behavior.
Fusion is now beginning to represent a viable alternative energy source, and governments around the world are investing in the development of this technology. While it was once said that fusion power is still 30 years away, scientists now think it could be a reality by the 2030s, with China aiming to achieve it within the next six years.
“Fusion promises to be a primary energy source and carbon-free, secure and abundant, on-demand electricity with the potential to transform the way we produce and use energy,” said David Turk, Secretary Deputy of the Ministry of Energy. , in a government statement.
Turk announced the government’s $50 million fusion program at a fusion showcase event at the Global Clean Energy Action Forum in Pittsburgh on Sept. 22.
The announcement came after Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, held a hearing on the commercialization of fusion energy on September 15.
“Nationally, fusion research is at a critical inflection point,” he said in a statement. “Private fusion companies are gearing up to demonstrate their technologies. Our national labs have achieved significant milestones and private capital has been generously invested in the promise of the technology.
“To further support and direct fusion and plasma research and development, Congress passed the Energy Act of 2020, the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022, and the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. 2022.”
Manchin said the laws direct the Department of Energy (DoE) to support US fusion efforts as well as the country’s contribution to Europe’s next experimental ITER tokamak reactor, which is expected to be the largest in the world.
It is unclear when the $50 million funding grants will begin to be awarded.
The investment comes after an additional $50 million was announced for tokamak research facilities in March by the DoE.