A British Columbia-based company has announced a major breakthrough that it believes could lead to the world’s first commercial fusion energy plant.
General Fusion in Burnaby says it has achieved milestone targets for the prototype of its fusion demonstration plant, which can accommodate the extreme conditions of fusion, such as temperatures up to 150 million C.
“When you’re trying to contain a plasma, which is a super-heated form of hydrogen, at conditions and temperatures at the centre of the sun … it’s very hard to think of putting it inside a machine and that machine lasting the lifetime of a power plant,” explained CEO Chris Mowry.
“General Fusion is driving on a path where we could be putting a shovel in the ground on the first commercial plant before the end of the decade.”
Fusion power is a proposed form of clean energy generation that involves heating up two substances — deuterium and tritium — until their atoms collide and fuse into helium and a neutron, which contain a substantial amount of energy.
That energy can be harnessed and used to create electricity.
General Fusion’s Magnetized Target Fusion (MTF) technology uses a swirling cylinder of liquid metal to safely compress and heat the required plasma to the right conditions. The concept itself isn’t new, but the company believes it has matured the technology.
“The temperatures and conditions just destroy any solid structure known to man, so by interposing this liquid metal wall, which also acts as a shield between this burning fusion plasma and the machine, you basically protect the machine,” Mowry explained.
“That’s an example of how this liquid metal vortex, as you called it, creates a path forward that actually solves the practical challenges that face making fusion a clean energy technology.”
General Fusion now plans to build a demonstration plant in the U.K., momentum that has attracted investments from Jeff Bezos, Shopify’s Tobi Luke, Bill Gates and more.
“It’s fascinating. It’s great motivation to know you’re working on a project that could change the world hopefully one day,” said Darren Ross, a mechanical engineer at General Fusion.
“The consequences of stuff not working are remarkably high for us; there’s a lot of pressure for us to perform.”
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