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DOE awarding $46M to 8 companies to support commercial fusion energy development

Jan 05, 2024

The US Department of Energy (DOE) announced $46 million in funding (DE-FOA-0002809) to eight companies advancing designs and research and development for fusion power plants. These awardees will work to acheive important technical and commercialization milestones to advance successful design of a fusion pilot plant (FPP) to move fusion toward technical and commercial viability.

This funding is from the Milestone-Based Fusion Development Program.

Within five to 10 years, the eight awardees will resolve scientific and technological challenges to create designs for a fusion pilot plant that will help bring fusion to both technical and commercial viability.

This program was partially inspired by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program that helped enable commercial space launch.

The awardees are:

Commonwealth Fusion Systems (Cambridge, MA). Commercial fusion power on a decadal timescale with the compact, high-field ARC power plant.

For the first 18 months of DOE's program, CFS milestones focus on its commercially relevant net energy fusion device, called SPARC. SPARC uses high-temperature superconducting magnet technology to demonstrate that fusion can work as a commercial power source for the first time in history at a compact and cost-effective scale. SPARC will demonstrate net energy (Q>1) and pave the way for power plant design readiness. It will show both the plasma physics and many of the technologies and data required for the company's fusion power plant, called ARC.

Focused Energy Inc. (Austin, TX). Inertial Fusion Energy with High-Gain Proton Fast Ignition. A fast ignition target is a carefully composed structure designed to enable robust compression of the fuel to high densities while enabling the creation of a 2nd laser-generated ion beam to trigger fusion reactions in the fuel.

Princeton Stellarators Inc. (Branchburg, NJ). Stellarator Fusion Pilot Plant Enabled by Array of Planar Shaping Coils. PSI's proprietary stellarator technology utilizes arrays of planar magnets, eliminating the prohibitively complex 3-dimensional magnetic field coils required in all other proposed stellarator architectures.

Realta Fusion Inc. (Madison, WI). The High-Field Axisymmetric Mirror on a Faster Path to Fusion Energy. Realta, spun out of a $10-million ARPA-e funded project at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is targeting industrial heat and power as an early application for its fusion technology in which the ability to operate at a wide range of scales is a significant advantage. Realta's compact magnetic mirror will produce net energy at smaller scales than competing toroidal systems and has the potential to be a lower cost and less complex generator of zero-carbon heat and power.

Tokamak Energy Inc. (Bruceton Mills, WV). ST-E1 Preliminary Design Review for a Fusion Pilot Plant. Tokamak Energy is the first private fusion company to reach a plasma ion temperature of 100 million degrees Celsius in its ST40 tokamak, the threshold for commercial fusion. ST40 also achieved the highest triple product by a private company. Triple product is a widely recognised industry measure of plasma density, temperature and confinement, collectively a key measure of progress on the path to realizing commercial fusion conditions.

Type One Energy Group (Madison, WI). The High-Field Stellarator Path to Commercial Fusion Energy. The company's FusionDirect commercialization program takes advantage of recent breakthroughs to pursue a lowest-risk, shortest-schedule pathway to fusion energy. Improvements in stellarator fusion performance and plasma science work together with technical innovations in high-temperature superconducting (HTS) magnet technology and advanced manufacturing.

Xcimer Energy Inc. (Redwood City, CA). IFE Pilot Plant with a Low-Cost, High-Energy Excimer Driver and the HYLIFE Concept. Laser inertial confinement fusion is the only fusion approach that has reached scientific breakeven, achieved in December 2022 at the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The Xcimer team will leverage this accomplishment and the significant progress made by the laser fusion community to advance IFE.

Xcimer's technology is enabled by innovations originally pioneered for national security applications, which significantly reduce the cost of the laser system conventionally considered the most expensive component of an IFE power plant. A low-cost laser enables economical production of laser energies of tens of megajoules, which allows direct scaling of the hotspot ignition mechanism proven at the NIF to larger, more reliable, higher-yield fuel capsules.

The higher energy output from larger capsules permits operation of a power plant at a repetition rate of under one shot per second, significantly reducing engineering risk relative to other IFE concepts. Together, these innovations allow the adoption of the well-studied HYLIFE chamber concept developed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which allows a 30-year facility lifetime without first-wall replacement and the accompanying waste generation and material science R&D challenges.

Zap Energy Inc. (Everett, WA). Development of a Fusion Pilot Plant Design Based on a Sheared-Flow-Stabilized Z Pinch. Sheared-flow-stabilized Z-pinch fusion doesn't require magnets, cryogenics or high-powered lasers. Zap Energy confines plasma using the magnetic field generated by a powerful electrical current in the plasma (Z-pinch) instead of using external magnets.

While Z-pinch fusion was tested as far back as the 1950s, researchers were stymied by how quickly the plasmas fizzled out. Zap Energy solves that problem through sheared-flow stabilization—a plasma physics innovation that can theoretically extend the lifetime of a Z-pinched plasma almost indefinitely.

The total funding of $46 million is for the first 18 months, with funds coming from Fiscal Years 2022 and 2023. Projects may last up to five years in duration, with outyear funding contingent on congressional appropriations, and continued participation from the teams contingent on satisfactory progress in meeting the negotiated milestones.

Posted on 04 June 2023 in Fusion, Market Background, Nuclear | Permalink | Comments (1)