Commercial Fusion R&D Heats Up
Research and development (R&D) in commercial hot nuclear fusion is heating up. Several companies hope to commercialize fusion reactors in a few years.
Most notably, a publicly traded American defense contractor the Lockheed Martin Corporation (NYSE: LMT)could build a fusion test reactor. Lockheed Martin’s legendary Skunk Works R&D shop will build the Compact Fusion Reactor (CFR), The Drive reports.
The Skunk Works created such legendary aircraft as the Stealth Bomber and the SR-71 Blackbird spy plane. Skunk Works has already built four fusion test reactors and is planning a fifth called the T5.
Lockheed Martin Plans Fusion Reactor
Researchers will use the T5 to see if Skunk Works’ fusion design can contain and control super hot, highly energized plasma. If it works, the T5 could create fusion for electricity generation. To clarify, fusion occurs when intense pressures disrupt atomic structures.
Theoretically, that pressure will force particles together into a heavier nucleus and release vast amounts of energy or heat. They can use the heat to make steam to power a turbine to make electricity. Fusion reactors are hard to build because they can theoretically generate temperatures of millions of degrees.
Notably, Skunk Works Vice President and General Manager Jeff Babione hopes to the get the T5 up and running by the end of this year. The hope is that the CFR will generate enough electricity to power a Nimitz class aircraft carrier, or 80,000 homes. Moreover, the CFR could power the city of Santa Fe, New Mexico, which had a population of 83,776 people in 2017.
Fusion Reactor could power an Aircraft Carrier
The amount of power a CFR could generate is great, because a Nimitz class aircraft carrier weighs 97,000 tons.
One obvious use of the CFR will be to replace the dangerous nuclear reactors navies use in submarines and aircraft carriers. Another use will be to replace fossil fuels as a power source for shipping.
Predictably, the Skunk Works could work on a large fusion powered aircraft. However, no details of that aircraft are available. Though, Marvel fans know Nick Fury’s HQ; the SHIELD helicarrier or flying aircraft carrier is fusion powered.
More Fusion Reactors are Coming
The T5 CFR will have serious competition, scientists hope to have the gigantic International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) fusion experiment in France up and running in 2021. Incredibly, the ITER will weigh around 23,000 tons.
Meanwhile, a company called Pulsar Fusion is building Britain’s largest privately owned nuclear fusion facility, Electric Light & Power reports. Pulsar Fusion’s owner founder; former reality TV star Richard Dinan, claims his team can build a fusion reactor that can generate temperatures over 100 million degrees Celsius in three months.
MIT Fusion Work gets $50 million Investment
Strangely, the most exiting fusion start-up, Commonwealth Fusion Systems came out of a class Professor Dennis Whyte taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Specifically, Whyte the head of MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center, organized a class project to reduce the cost of fusion, TechCrunch reports. The project was so successful a group of Whyte’s students organized Commonwealth.
Commonwealth’s goal is to build, commercialize, and market the affordable, robust, compact, or ARC fusion reactor. Notably, the ARC started as a class project to develop a cheaper, smaller, and safer fusion reactor.
MIT Fusion reactor could power 75,000 Homes
Intriguingly, the research behind the ARC was done at MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center, which Whyte heads. Meanwhile, many students and graduates from the center work at Commonwealth Fusion Systems, MIT News reports.
Notably, Whyte has claimed somebody will build a working fusion reactor with off-the-the shelf components by 2025, Market Mad House reports. Accordingly Commonwealth is trying to build an ARC reactor called SPARC with proprietary superconducting electromagnets.
To explain, Whyte hopes the electromagnets can safely contain the super hot plasma and enable the SPARC to generate up to 100 megawatts (MW) of heat. Long-term plans at Commonwealth include building a 200 megawatt reactor that could power 75,000 homes; or a city the size of Flagstaff, Arizona, by 2033. Flagstaff has a population of around 70,000 people.
Additionally, experts at the Engine; MIT’s program for the commercialization of new technologies, think SPARC is worthy of commercial development, MIT News reports.
MIT Fusion receives $114 million in Investment
Notably, such a reactor could cost $3 billion, Robert Casula tells Reuters. Casula is the head of development operations and technology at the Italian oil company, Eni S.P.A. (NYSE: E).
Eni is part of several investors that gave Commonwealth $64 million. The investors participate in the MIT Energy Initiative which funds Commonwealth.
Other investors in Commonwealth include in Bill Gates’ hedge fund Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV). Gates’ BEV partners include Alibaba’s Jack Ma, SoftBank’s Masayoshi Son, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson, Market Mad House reports.
Meanwhile the venture capital group Future Now Ventures is investing another $50 million in Commonwealth TechCrunch claims. If TechCrunch’s claims are true Commonwealth could have up to $114 million for fusion development.
Now all Commonwealth will need to do is build a working fusion reactor that can generate 50 megawatts of energy using a steam turbine. However, nobody has made any electricity with fusion.
Fusion is the Ultimate Disruptive Energy Technology
Hot nuclear fusion is the ultimate disruptive energy technology because it could theoretically generate vast amounts of power while putting out no radiation or pollution.
If it works as promoters advertise, fusion could reduce the threat of Climate Change by eliminating the need for coal and natural gas burning power plants. Incidentally, fusion could put most coal miners out of work, and destroy America’s railroads. One of the main uses for trains in America is to move coal to power plants.
Coal is still big business, it still powers 38% of the world’s electricity production, the MIT Technology Review estimates. Consequently, there is a huge potential market for fusion in the electric power industry.
Beyond that, fusion could make electricity cheap and plentiful and fuel a massive expansion of technology and civilization. Therefore, fusion could jump start a new industrial revolution the way coal powered the Industrial Revolution of the 19th Century.
Thus, you could make a lot of money with fusion if somebody gets it to work. That and saving the world will increase interest in this technology in the years ahead. Expect to see many headlines about new fusion reactors soon.