Categories
Cosmic Science

ITER fusion project celebrates start of assembly

The $25 billion international fusion project known as ITER marked the start of its five-year reactor assembly process today with a ceremony tailored for the coronavirus era.

French President Emmanuel Macron was the headliner, appearing on a big screen set up at the construction site in France’s Provence region.

“ITER is clearly an act of confidence in the future,” Macron told a small gathering of dignitaries who were spread out in the ITER Assembly Hall to observe social-distancing guidelines. “Breakthroughs in human history have always proceeded from daring bets, from journeys fraught with difficulty.”

Difficulties in the form of rising costs and delayed schedules have dogged ITER for more than a decade. When I visited the site in 2007, planners anticipated that operations would start up in 2016 — and the project’s cost was listed at $13 billion.

In an interview with Science’s Daniel Clery, ITER Director-General Bernard Bigot estimated that the rate of spending is around €1 million ($1.2 million) per day.  Clery’s report also noted that the first piece of the facility’s doughnut-shaped tokamak reactor, the nearly 100-foot-wide cryostat base, was lowered into the assembly pit in May.

Components for ITER are being provided as in-kind contributions by the project’s seven members: China, the European Union, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States. Indian contractors built the cryostat, for example, while the U.S. is responsible for the central solenoid magnet (built by General Atomics).

Experiments at ITER are expected eventually to surpass the break-even point for a nuclear fusion reaction — a small-scale version of the reaction that powers the sun. That could blaze a trail for future commercial reactors potentially capable of generating cheap, clean, safe, abundant electricity.

ITER follows the conventional approach to fusion power, known as magnetic confinement fusion. Meanwhile, several commercial ventures — including General Fusion, based near Vancouver, B.C. — are trying to commercialize fusion power on a shorter timetable using less conventional approaches.

Categories
GeekWire

General Fusion gets a $65M boost for power plant

General Fusion plasma injector
General Fusion says it has the world’s largest and most powerful plasma injector, capable of creating a ring of hydrogen plasma 6 feet in diameter and heating it to millions of degrees. This machine is a prototype of the fuel injector for a fusion power plant. (General Fusion Photo)

Burnaby, B.C.-based General Fusion says it has closed on a $65 million equity financing round that will spark the launch of a program to design, construct and operate a demonstration nuclear fusion power plant.

Get the news brief on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Canada invests $38M in General Fusion’s research

General Fusion plasma injector
General Fusion says it has the world’s largest and most powerful plasma injector, capable of creating a ring of hydrogen plasma 6 feet in diameter and heating it to millions of degrees. This machine is a prototype of the fuel injector for a fusion power plant. (General Fusion Photo)

The Canadian government says it’s investing $37.5 million (49.3 million Canadian dollars) in General Fusion, a British Columbia company that aims to build a prototype plant powered by nuclear fusion.

Funding from Canada’s Strategic Innovation Fund was announced today by Defense Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan and Navdeep Bains, Canada’s minister of innovation, science and economic development.

In a news release, Burnaby, B.C.-based General Fusion said the government’s backing would support the creation of 400 new jobs and boost the development of a “first-of-its-kind, large-scale prototype plant that will demonstrate a practical approach to commercializing affordable, abundant, safe and emission-free electricity from fusion energy.”

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

TAE fusion venture rearranges its leadership

Michl Binderbauer
Michl Binderbauer is moving up from chief technology officer to chief executive officer at California-based TAE Technologies, formerly known as Tri Alpha Energy. (PPPL / TAE Photo)

TAE Technologies, the fusion energy venture backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and other heavy-hitters, is elevating Michl Binderbauer to CEO and bringing former General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt onto its board of directors.

The California-based company’s former CEO, Steven Specker, will stay on as a board member and adviser. And Mark Lewis, who joined the company as chief business officer last year, has been appointed president.

In an interview, Binderbauer told GeekWire that the executive change-over has been “amicable,” and will set the stage for the next chapter in TAE’s efforts to tame nuclear fusion and capitalize on technological spin-offs along the way.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Fusion venture branches out into cancer therapy

Cancer therapy
An artist’s conception shows how a beam of neutrons could be directed at a tumor in a patient’s head, shown in a cutaway view. (TAE Life Sciences Illustration)

TAE Technologies, the California-based fusion energy company backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, has spawned a spinoff focusing on a novel type of cancer therapy.

The spinoff, TAE Life Sciences, is a majority-owned subsidiary of TAE Technologies and will take advantage of the company’s accelerator-based beam technology.

In its quest to tame nuclear fusion, TAE Technologies has developed a high-intensity beam system that shoots energetic particles at clouds of plasma to boost stability and performance.

TAE Life Sciences aims to use similar beams for an application known as boron neutron capture therapy, or BNCT. The technique involves injecting a drug containing non-radioactive boron into a cancer patient’s tumor, and then shooting a neutron beam at the tumor.

The boron atoms absorb the neutrons, resulting in a localized radiation effect that kills the tumor cells while preserving non-cancerous tissue.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

MIT and a startup join the commercial fusion race

SPARC fusion reactor
An artist’s conception shows the proposed SPARC tokamak experiment. Using high-field magnets built with high-temperature superconductors, this experiment could be the first controlled fusion plasma to produce net energy output. (MIT PSFC Illustration / Ken Filar)

A new entrant in the race to commercialize fusion energy, Commonwealth Fusion Systems, aims to capitalize on superconductor technology from MIT and $50 million from the Italian energy company Eni.

The collaboration between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Commonwealth Fusion, an MIT spinout based in Cambridge, Mass., came to light today after years of work behind the scenes.

“This is an important historical moment: Advances in superconducting magnets have put fusion energy potentially within reach, offering the prospect of a safe, carbon-free energy future,” MIT President L. Rafael Reif said in a news release.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Fusion ventures learn lessons about expectations

Plasma injector
General Fusion says it has the world’s largest and most powerful plasma injector, capable of creating a ring of hydrogen plasma 6 feet in diameter and heating it to millions of degrees. This machine is a prototype of the fuel injector for a fusion power plant. (General Fusion Photo)

The promise of natural gas, shale oil, renewable energy and conventional nuclear power all pale in comparison to the promise of clean, potentially abundant fusion power — and that’s attracting increasing attention from science-savvy entrepreneurs.

Almost two dozen private ventures are trying to crack the fusion challenge, backed by a combined total of more than a billion dollars of private investment, said Chris Mowry, the CEO of Vancouver, B.C.-based General Fusion. (One Seattle venture, CTFusion, is currently looking for lab space.)

Mowry drew parallels to the enthusiasm sparked by SpaceX in the launch industry.

“I feel like this is the SpaceX moment for fusion,” he said today at a Seattle breakfast session on commercial fusion ventures, organized by the CleanTech Alliance.

But when you ask about the time frame for commercializing fusion power, the answers get squishier. And there’s good reason for that.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

TAE pushes plasma to new high on fusion frontier

Norman plasma generator
TAE Technologies’ Norman plasma generator is pushing the envelope in fusion research. (TAE Photo)

TAE Technologies, the California-based fusion company backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, said its latest and greatest plasma generator has exceeded the headline-grabbing performance of its previous machine.

“This announcement is an important milestone on our quest to deliver world-changing, clean fusion energy to help combat climate change and improve the quality of life for people globally,” Michl Binderbauer, the company’s president and chief technology officer, said in a news release. “This achievement further validates the robustness of TAE’s underlying science and unique pathway.”

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

ITER fusion facility reaches the halfway point

ITER wide-angle view
A super-wide-angle view shows the fusion reactor under construction in France. (ITER Photo)

The world’s biggest and most expensive nuclear fusion research project, known as ITER, says it’s halfway done with the construction effort leading to the startup of its seven-story-high reactor in 2025.

ITER’s ambition to demonstrate a sustained fusion reaction that produces a net gain in energy is matched by the estimated cost, which exceeds $20 billion.

The 35-nation consortium began construction a decade ago, under an unusual arrangement that calls for the various countries to contribute components for the reactor taking shape at Cadarache in southern France. The United States is responsible for 9 percent of the total cost.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

TAE fusion venture wins supercomputer time

Norman plasma machine
TAE Technologies conducts fusion research using a plasma generator known as Norman. (TAE Photo)

TAE Technologies, the venture formerly known as Tri Alpha Energy, says it’s been admitted into a U.S. Department of Energy supercomputer program that should accelerate its drive to harness nuclear fusion.

The Office of Science program — known as Innovative and Novel Computational Impact on Theory and Experiment, or INCITE — will give researchers access to 31 million core hours on a Cray XC40 supercomputer, TAE said today in a news release.

TAE said its award was one of only 50 granted for the 2018 round of INCITE proposals. The award will provide access to DOE Leadership Computing Facilities at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois and Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

The boost in data-processing resources is coming at a crucial time for the California-based company, which counts Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen as one of its investors.

Get the full story on GeekWire.