“ SDTC funding catalyzed significant support for General Fusion, which has enabled us to rapidly grow a world-class science and engineering team, and leading fusion-research facility. Our MTF technology has the potential to transform the world’s energy supply and we’re proud to have SDTC supporting a disruptive industry that is creating high tech jobs while building Canada’s capacity to meet our clean energy-generation commitments.”
Energy supply is the number one challenge of the 21st century, with population growth expected to drive global energy demand up by 34 per cent in the next 20 years. Fusion energy is a clean, safe, and cost-competitive option for meeting this demand. General Fusion is developing the world’s first full-scale demonstration fusion power plant based on commercially viable technology. In this project, General Fusion aimed to verify the technical and economic viability of their Magnetized Target Fusion (MTF) technology, and constructed the core components of a full-scale power plant. This power plant will safely produce reliable baseload electricity with zero greenhouse gas emissions at prices competitive with fossil fuels, making it a powerful tool to tackle climate change.
Fusion is a clean, safe and abundant energy source that, if harnessed and replicated on the earth, could replace fossil fuels and provide a nearly unlimited source of power with zero CO2 emissions. Fusion occurs when atoms (normally hydrogen isotopes) are heated to very high temperatures, allowing them to collide and fuse. As the sun’s sole energy source, fusion is created through extreme pressure and heat. The challenge for fusion science here on Earth is to create sun-like conditions on our own planet.
Fusion can generate its power from virtually limitless seawater and is a safe form of energy, without the meltdown risk or radioactive waste associated with conventional nuclear fission. Not yet commercially available, fusion represents a trillion-dollar opportunity to supply the majority of future global-energy demand.
General Fusion was founded in 2002 by Dr. Michel Laberge as he sought to develop an approach to fusion energy that could address the world’s urgent need for carbon-free sources of energy. Drawing on more than 50 years of research from universities and national laboratories around the world, Dr. Laberge identified an approach that, given modern advances in electronics and plasma physics, could provide a feasible path to a fusion power plant. Called Magnetized Target Fusion, General Fusion is focused on making this technology a reality.
Research into fusion technology has generally involved two approaches. Magnetic Confinement Fusion attempts to confine plasma at fusion temperatures for long periods of time (minutes) and at very low density using strong magnetic fields. At one trillion times higher density, Inertial Confinement Fusion attempts to compress fuel to fusion conditions for a nanosecond. In the middle is General Fusion’s approach—Magnetized Target Fusion (MTF)—that uses aspects of both magnetic confinement and compression to achieve fusion conditions for a few microseconds, at intermediate densities.
The MTF system uses a sphere, filled with molten lead-lithium that is pumped to form a vortex. With each pulse, magnetically confined plasma is injected into the vortex. Surrounding the sphere, an array of pistons impact and drive a pressure wave into the centre of the sphere, compressing the plasma to fusion conditions. The resulting energy is converted to steam to spin a turbine, producing electricity.
This system overcomes a number of key challenges in the creation of a commercial power plant, while utilizing existing industrial technologies such as pistons instead of large lasers or exotic magnets.
Through the SDTC program, General Fusion constructed several iterations of the core sub-systems of a full-scale fusion prototype, demonstrating that many key technical challenges could be overcome. The company’s team of 65 world-leading engineers and physicists continue to conduct a milestone-driven simulation and experimentation campaign, moving toward development of a demonstration power plant.
General Fusion is in the process of developing and optimizing the sub-systems that will comprise a demonstration power plant. To reduce technical risk during this phase, each component is subject to its own experimental and prototyping program. Leveraging SDTC funding to attract over $100 million in venture capital, the company is on track to achieve performance milestones, which will lead to design and construction of a demonstration power plant.