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CANADIAN START-UP GENERAL FUSION'S PATHWAY TO A ZERO EMISSION GRID
By Suzanne Forcese
“The world’s population is expected to grow to 9 billion by 2040, driving global demand for electricity up by 45%.”
EIA International Energy Outlook
“The production and consumption of energy is responsible for 78% of GHG emissions worldwide.”
Natural Resources Canada
Finding non GHG-producing energy sources is a major global challenge that innovators must address by confronting the emotional components of the experiential barriers to success as much as they must face the technical challenges.
A Canadian company based in Burnaby, British Columbia is positioned on the cusp of a revolution with a disruptive technology that is pushing the envelope of fusion science that will lead to break even – the point where energy input is matched by the energy output of a fusion reaction.
“To become reality, the emotional connection with fusion must be created as much as the technology must be proven. Fusion must be embraced by the very society it seeks to benefit in order to create a sustainable future of energy.”
Christofer Mowry, Chief Executive Officer at General Fusion
WATERTODAY had the pleasure of speaking with General Fusion’s Mike Donaldson, Vice President, Fusion Island Engineering.
“We are in a position to leverage decades of advancement in fusion energy science with our technology. Combining that with increased investment and government support, at all levels globally, we are really creating an opportunity that puts fusion energy on the path to commercialism in an economically viable way,” Donaldson told WT about the team of 100 engineers, technicians and scientists.
From the team’s jazzy red lab coats to the group bike ride coffee breaks, Donaldson’s excitement spreads contagion as he speaks of the team’s cohesion – a result of being part of a common goal. “We really take pride in everything we do. We are part of a solution to greener, cleaner, safer energy that addresses a lot of climate change issues.”
Founded in 2002 by physicist Dr. Michel Laberge General Fusion’s secret sauce to clean, cheap energy is a combination of high speeds, scorching temperatures, and crushing pressure.
Nature has been the model for General Fusion’s technology. Operating like the sun and stars, fusion energy combines lighter atoms together to form heavier atoms – a process that releases vast amounts of energy.
There is enough fusion fuel on earth to power the planet for hundreds of millions of years.
“Fusion clearly offers a powerful technical value proposition for achieving sustainable deep de-carbonization of the global energy system. Its fuel source, water, is ubiquitous. As such, it uniquely addresses the issue of energy autonomy for jurisdictions around the world with limited fuel alternatives to reliably power their domestic energy generation.
“Fusion also overcomes the increasingly difficult social acceptance challenge of requisitioning land and water at large scales for renewable energy sources.”
Christofer Mowry, Chief Executive Officer at General Fusion
Nature’s Way of Making Energy -
Fusion powers the sun and stars, where gravity compresses hydrogen gas to the temperatures required for fusion. When atoms are heated to very high temperatures they collide at high velocity and fuse together. The process releases a large amount of energy. The most practical fusion reaction uses isotopes of hydrogen named “deuterium” and “tritium”. These can be extracted from seawater and derived from lithium.
Science has faced a test creating (in a controlled way) the same conditions that Nature has mastered. To produce energy from fusion, scientists must manage the temperature, density, and lifespan of the plasma fuel. Since all deuterium/tritium fuelled fusion takes place at 150 million degrees Celsius, the two variables that can be controlled to produce fusion are plasma density and lifespan.
To achieve fusion energy GF is pursuing Magnetized Target Fusion (MTF) technology which is between the concepts of the ‘magnetic confinement fusion’ and ‘inertial confinement fusion’ -- approaches to fusion energy at opposite ends of the spectrum.
General Fusion’s P13 plasma injector – the largest, most powerful fusion plasma injector in the world. Photo Courtesy General Fusion
This method is designed to be a practical path to commercializing fusion energy without the giant magnets or lasers that other fusion approaches require. General Fusion uses pistons to compress plasma within a liquid metal cavity, allowing plasma temperature and density to reach a point where atoms can fuse.
“MTF allows us to use steam driven pistons. We are not reliant on inventing new technology,”(https://youtu.be/k3zcmPmW6dE) Donaldson said. “This is in keeping with our Founder’s mission. That’s our mission – putting fusion on the grid in economically viable way.”
It is a practical approach that uses existing infrastructure.
General Fusion’s next big step is a Demonstration Plant. “As a prototype it will be a demonstration of our technology at near power plant size. We are focusing on confirming the economics and science and inviting the general public to experience our commitment to be the fastest at fusion commercialization for safe, clean, abundant energy everywhere.”
AL_A is leading the design of the Demonstration Plant (Interior). “Sharing the promise of fusion means creating a level of technology transparency previously unexperienced in energy, inviting infrastructure to be something we embrace rather than endure.” - Christofer Mowry
Exterior of the Demonstration Plant at night. The Company, was founded by Dr. Michel Laberge with a singular focus to develop economically viable fusion energy. His insight was realizing that Magnetized Target Fusion could provide (with the aid of modern electronics, materials, and advances in plasma physics) a more practical path to fusion power.
General Fusion is partnering with The Princeton Plasma Lab – the world’s leading fusion research lab.
“This collaboration will develop new plasma stability modelling and simulation capabilities for MTF and the knowledge gained from this collaboration will support the design and operation of our Demonstration Plant.”
The Company has also partnered with McGill University under the leadership of Professor Jovan Nedic for his expertise in hydrodynamics and the flow of liquids under extreme pressure.
“Combined with the plasma research of the world’s leading fusion lab and McGill’s work on the compression of plasma together with our plasma injector – the largest in the world-- we will be making huge strides in bringing fusion power to commercialization,” Donaldson said.
The expertise of Nedic and Princeton Plasma Lab’s team will support the integration of the compression and plasma systems in the Fusion Demonstration Plant.
With shovels in the ground within the next two years, the design of the Demonstration Plant is expected to introduce the world to fusion power – a path forward to mitigating climate change by integrating Science and Nature. The Company’s Fusion Machine will sit at the heart of the building with educational corridors to capture visitors’ imaginations of a clean energy future.
Donaldson adds that over the next year the Company is looking to double the size of their team and they are on the lookout for bright engineers, scientists, technology experts and researchers who support the common solutions oriented goal of transitioning the world to a sustainable low-carbon future. “Check out our career opportunities page.”
Sounds like a great team to join. If you can find space in the bicycle rack that is.
“Until we create the full experience of fusion, society will struggle to make the necessary emotional connection with its benefits. As the era of fossil-fueled energy wanes, the world deserves a future distinguished by a better relationship between energy and society.” - Christofer Mowery, Chief Executive Officer at General Fusion
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