Despite all the reservations that still exist, companies in the United States have moved to qualify for subsidies and proceed to the design of the world’s first nuclear fusion pilot plant , which would be commercially and economically operational in the 2040s.
Less than a week after the official announcement that nuclear fusion has become a potential source of unlimited clean energy, the race is on in the United States to build the “world’s first operational fusion power plant,” reports Energy Wire.
Once it has been assumed, albeit with reservations, that sustained fusion power has been shown to be possible, it remains to be shown that the technology can work not only in highly structured laboratory experiments, but also in commercial reactors.
This development may take decades, but it already has an initial tentative horizon: in the 2040s, as projected by the United States Department of Energy (DOE), this source of clean energy should be feeding the country’s energy grid.
The announcement of the technological success has been linked to the call for applications for business projects contemplated in the 2020 Energy Law of the United States, endowed with a budget of 50 million dollars.
This law provides for funding the design of blueprints for a utility-scale nuclear fusion pilot plant that could deliver at least 50 megawatts of power to the US national grid.
The idea behind this call is that a one-of-a-kind pilot project would help convince US utilities that nuclear fusion is scientifically possible and worth massive investment in the future, according to the aforementioned magazine.
The goal of this plan is “to allow a nuclear fusion pilot project to operate in the early 2030s,” an unnamed senior DOE official said, according to the aforementioned magazine.
At least 15 pioneering private fusion companies are seeking grants for pilot plants of this potential energy source, according to the Fusion Industry Association, adds Energy Wire.
If the companies selected for these seed grants meet a series of increasingly rigorous scientific and engineering milestones, they can expect to win up to $415 million more in research grants, provided Congress eventually confirms the full amount. They could also form partnerships with DOE’s national laboratories subject to the same program.
To remain in the program, fusion teams will need to achieve a progressive series of technical milestones, demonstrating that they can solve remaining engineering challenges.
In any case, the whole process itself is complicated, because the companies calculate that they will need at least 2.6 billion dollars to achieve these objectives, an amount that is far removed from the public funds contemplated in North American legislation.
The forecast is that official aid will grow gradually as the expectations unleashed by last week’s announcement are consolidated with the initial projects, while progress is made in regulatory developments.
Also keep in mind that some businessmen, perhaps with inside information or just gut feeling, were already raising funds for merger projects before last week’s announcement.
For example, it is known that the president of Amazon, Jeff Bezos , along with other investors, last year raised 130 million dollars for the Canadian company General Fusion, with the purpose of developing a commercial fusion reactor like the one that DOE now seeks. , although only at the proof of concept level.
There is also the doubt that nuclear fusion is really within reach for the generation of the energy necessary for the country’s consumption, another obstacle to be resolved.
The question is that, today, the necessary materials are available to build a pilot plant, but not those that are needed for something more complex such as an operational center that is also economically and commercially viable, say experts consulted by different specialized media. .
The biggest difficulty is that a full-scale fusion reactor would have to not only produce a momentary reaction, but rely on durable components and reliable systems that can continuously produce power. Those technological components do not yet exist.
What is also clear is that the development of an economically attractive approach to fusion energy is a major scientific and technical challenge that will require the participation of universities, companies and public services, as well as national laboratories such as Livermore, it has also been highlighted.
From Spain, Enrique Nacher and Jose Luis Tain , from the Corpuscular Physics Institute (CSIC-UV), warn that we are still a long way from having fusion reactors for industrial energy production.
They emphasize that producing energy through economically viable fusion requires that much more energy be produced than consumed, something that has not been demonstrated with the announced result.
That is why they consider that, although we are closer to the potential use of nuclear fusion, it still seems far away to have fusion reactors for the industrial production of energy.
However, 2040 may be a reasonable time horizon, if expectations are being met. The nuclear fusion game has already started and all scenarios are possible.