2020 ANS Virtual Winter Meeting: Fusion technology start-ups showcased at TOFE 2020

November 19, 2020, 9:30AMNuclear News

The Fusion Enterprise-I and -II sessions, held on November 18 as part of the TOFE 2020 embedded topical meeting at the 2020 ANS Virtual Winter Meeting, were chaired by Ales Necas, principal scientist at TAE Technologies, and featured presentations by speakers representing companies in the commercial fusion area.

Magnetized target fusion: Michel Laberge, founder and chief science officer of General Fusion in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, started his talk with a description of magnetized target fusion science—the fusion equivalent of a diesel engine using pistons and compression. Most of his talk, however, was devoted to a tale of life as a start-up company. Laberge described starting his company taking no salary and with a small staff, and, as the company grew, having to pay attention to funding on one hand and technology advancement on the other.

The simplest machine: Jamie Darling, lead engineer at First Light Fusion, based near Oxford in the United Kingdom, discussed his company’s goal of solving the problem of fusion power with the simplest machine possible. First Light’s inertial confinement approach utilizes a very small (but fast) projectile impacting a target. Darling gave an overview of First Light’s approach and facilities, followed by details of the economic model for the technology’s feasibility in an ever more crowded commercial fusion environment.

Medical isotopes: Greg Piefer, of SHINE Medical Technologies in Janesville, Wis., described starting out his career with an eye toward fusion energy before pivoting to focus on fusion neutron applications as part of Phoenix Nuclear Labs (now known as Phoenix LLC). SHINE was spun off to develop transmutation technologies using fusion neutrons, the earliest application being the production of medical isotopes such as lutetium-177 and molybdenum-99. SHINE is nearing the completion of what will be the world’s largest Mo-99 production facility and aims to bring reliability to the supply. Future goals for transmutation technology include recycling and destruction of nuclear waste.

Transition challenge: David Kingham, of Tokamak Energy, near Oxford, United Kingdom, posed the question, “Why now for fusion?” The answer he gave is that the confluence of established science, new technology, private investment, and the energy transition challenge (that is, deep decarbonization) has created the conditions for a race among fusion designs. Tokamak Energy’s focus is on the new technology aspect—specifically, high-temperature superconducting magnets, which it plans to use in a spherical tokamak design, with the ambitious goals of building a demonstration device by 2025 and connecting to the electric grid around 2030.

Spheromak technology: Derek Sutherland, cofounder and chief executive officer of CTFusion in Seattle, Wash., gave an overview of the spheromak technology that his company is developing. His talk covered a summary of past results and ongoing R&D activities at the company, highlighting the benefits of spheromak designs over other fusion designs. CTFusion’s devices are in the exploration and proof-of-concept stages.

Neutron applications: Ross Radel, of Phoenix LLC, near Madison, Wis., gave a presentation on the company’s steady-state fusion neutron generation technology. As mentioned above, SHINE Medical Technologies split off from Phoenix to focus on medical isotope applications, leaving Phoenix to take a broader approach. The company recently opened a neutron imaging center that is in commercial operation.

The Fusion Enterprise series wrapped up with a panel discussion featuring several of the speakers mentioned above, and others. Registered meeting attendees can watch the session recordings online at answinter.org.

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