Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Canadian Fusion Power Funded by the Federal Government

          By Brian Orlotti

The Canadian Government has announced that it has made a new $49.3Mln CDN investment in Burnaby BC based General Fusion, a clean technology company developing an alternative form of fusion energy. The investment reaffirms Canada’s commitment to clean energy amidst a global trade war and helps to ensure that Canadian fusion energy talent remains at home.

As outlined in the October 26th, 2018 Business in Vancouver post, "Burnaby’s General Fusion lands $49m investment from feds," the announcement was made by Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development along with Harjit Singh Sajjan, Minister of National Defence. The funding will enable General Fusion to hire 400 new staff, expand its collaboration with various post-secondary institutions and support development of a 70% scale prototype power plant.

Founded in 2002 by Michel Laberge, General Fusion is currently the only Canadian firm developing fusion energy technology.

The company’s approach, magnetized target fusion (MTF), uses a reactor in the form of a three-meter-diameter steel sphere filled with spinning molten lead and lithium. The spinning lead and lithium form a vortex, into which a deuterium-tritium plasma fuel is injected. A series of steam pistons then strikes the sphere, creating shock waves that collapse the vortex and compress the plasma.

This compression heats the plasma to the point where the deuterium and tritium nuclei fuse, releasing energy. This energy then heats the liquid metal, which is pumped through a heat exchange and used to generate electricity via a steam turbine. The process then repeats, with the liquid metal being continuously pumped through the system.

A key advantage of MTF over traditional fusion devices is that it is a pulsed power system (similar to a diesel engine), making prolonged containment of the plasma unnecessary. Difficulties in containing plasma due to its instabilities has kept traditional fusion devices like tokamaks from achieving net energy gain.

General Fusion has attracted a global group of investors which includes Calgary AB based Cenovus Energy, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, the Malaysian Government and the Canadian Government. The company will invest at least $150Mln CDN in research and development. An additional $250Mln CDN will be needed to finance the construction of the prototype plant, for which the company has already begun fundraising. It is likely that General Fusion’s current investors will participate in this next funding round.

In an interesting side note, one of General Fusion’s partners is Cincinnati OH based GE Additive, the 3D printing arm of General Electric. GE Additive is fabricating various titanium components for the reactor.

General Fusion’s MTF technology is poised for success at a time when it is very much needed. As wars continue to ravage the Middle East and the US continues to threaten Canada, fusion power holds the promise of not only healing our planet, but also giving Canada’s talent and technology a chance to shine
Brian Orlotti.

Brian Orlotti is a network operator at the Ontario Research and Innovation Optical Network (ORION), a not-for-profit network service provider to the education and research sectors.

1 comment:

  1. I must comment that the rethoric of this article is rather uninformed, with all due respect. "General Fusion’s MTF technology is poised for success at a time when it is very much needed." Money is not guarantee for success in fusion projects. How about quoting any of the useful fusion performance indicators: ion temperature/plasma density/confinement times? 5 Million degrees electron temperatures in the order of the microseconds where achieved in U of Saskatchewan STORM tokamak in the 90s! These efforts are orders of magnitude behind conventional tokamak/stellarator efforts and are diverting funding from much needed concentrated international endeavours like ITER/Wendelstein 7-X. It's sad to see Canada, who hosted the giants of fusion research like Stangeby and G. D. Whyte, now spearhead and significantly fund efforts that have a return on investment in the order of hundreds of years. These efforts are simply not competitive in an already difficult business. Tokamak fusion plants would be well on their way by the time this gets off the ground. Their performance to-date is no indicator that they can turn the tables on their side. I salute General Fusion's efforts on bringing a new fresh approach to fusion, but I do not agree with the Canadian government's decision to fund these efforts at the expense of funding more established approaches that are the focus of research efforts internationally. It looks like these 50 Million are going away to calm the guilty feelings of the governments when they hear all the increased interest in high-temperature small tokamak devices going on in the US/UK/Europe.


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