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It is recommended to read my book “The Rules of 10 Baggers“:
- Sections 3-7, pp. 168-169.
The mechanism of nuclear fusion power generation is to obtain energy through the nuclear fusion between atomic nuclei. No burning of fossil fuels, no production of carbon dioxide. Heavy hydrogen (deuterium) as fuel can be extracted from seawater. Nuclear fusion power generation has the advantage of not generating high-level radioactive waste generated by existing nuclear power plants, and it is a next-generation energy that will become the trump card for realizing a decarbonized society.
Fusion power generation is a reaction in which lighter nuclei like hydrogen fuse with each other to form heavier nuclei such as helium, which can generate huge energy with less fuel. In theory, 1 gram of fuel can generate the same amount of heat as about 8 tons of oil equivalent to a tank truck, which is four times that of the nuclear fission reaction in current nuclear power plants.
The sun uses nuclear fusion
The sun also releases huge heat through nuclear fusion reaction, so the nuclear fusion reactor is called artificial sun. Since nuclear fusion fuel and its raw materials exist in seawater, there are fewer concerns about resource supply. As long as the fuel supply is stopped, the reaction will stop quickly, so it is safer than conventional nuclear power plants.
How is energy generated?
If the heat generated by nuclear fusion is used to make steam from water and drive turbines to rotate, etc., electricity can be generated. Nuclear fusion power generation is different from thermal power generation that burns oil and natural gas, and does not emit carbon dioxide, so it has also become the ace of decarbonization.
The latest developments in nuclear fusion
The main technologies used in nuclear fusion
There are many ways of nuclear fusion, which can be roughly divided into two types:
- The first is the “magnetic field method” that uses a magnetic field to seal the fuel—hydrogen plasma (ionized gas). In terms of practicality, the magnetic field technology is currently far ahead.
- The second is the “inertial method” that uses the action of lasers and the like to seal the fuel. The “Net Energy Gain” results released by the research institute under the US Department of Energy in December 2022 belong to this technology.
Advantages of nuclear fusion
The advantages of nuclear fusion are at least the following:
- First, the raw materials for nuclear fusion reaction are abundant; hydrogen isotopes as fuel are relatively abundant on the earth, “deuterium” can be extracted from seawater, and “tritium” can be obtained from neutrons produced by nuclear fusion reaction itself generated.
- Second, the safety is high, the raw materials will not explode, the probability of a nuclear accident similar to Fukushima in Japan is low, there is no risk of reactor meltdown, and there is no doubt about the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
- Third, no greenhouse gas emissions.
- Fourth, the number of low-level radioactive by-products produced by nuclear fusion is low, and will fall below the safe dose value after a hundred years. Compared with the radiation pollutants produced by traditional nuclear fission reactors, the radioactive waste generated by nuclear fusion has a very short life span.
- Fifth, great energy efficiency. In theory, 1 gram of fuel can generate the same amount of heat as about 8 tons of oil equivalent to a tanker truck, which is four times that of the nuclear fission reaction in current nuclear power plants.
Current development latest progress
In order to achieve commercialization by the 2030s, nuclear fusion technology development is gradually progressing. The U.S. Department of Energy announced in December 2022 that the energy generated in the experiment exceeded the energy invested to produce nuclear fusion, which is a major milestone for nuclear fusion.
Businesses have also taken action. Microsoft (ticker: MSFT) has signed a contract with Helion Energy, an American start-up involved in nuclear fusion power generation, and plans to start a power purchase agreement in 2028. It is said that this is the world’s first nuclear fusion electricity sales contract.
Famous private related companies
How hot is nuclear fusion power generation?
Nuclear fusion power generation has become a hot topic. According to the statistics of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) at the end of 2022, there are currently 133 nuclear fusion devices in the world, and the United States covers nearly a quarter of the number. Among them, 39 were built and planned; in terms of countries, the United States has a maximum of 31, and the White House will invest more than 671 million US dollars in harmony projects in 2020. In addition, Japan, Russia, China, and the United Kingdom are all funded mainly by the government, and a few are funded by private companies.
Global major private companies
|Company name||Country||Fundraised (as of Q2 2022)|
|Commonwealth Fusion System||US||US$ 2 billion|
|TAE Technologies||US||US$ 1 billion|
|Helion Energy||US||US$ 600 million|
|General Fusion||Canada||US$ 350 million|
|Tokamak Energy||UK||US$ 250 million|
|Zap Energy||US||US$ 200 million|
|ENN group||China||US$ 200 million|
|Kyoto Fusioneering||Japan||US$ 100 million|
Because nuclear fusion is not yet in commercial operation, there are currently no listed companies in the world whose main business is nuclear fusion. But the closest one to go public is Oklo.
Oklo, a nuclear fission startup backed by OpenAI CEO Altman’s money, revealed in July 2023 that it plans to go public through a merger with Altman’s special purpose acquisition company (SPAC).
There are many start-up companies
Since the late 2010s, a number of nuclear fusion startups have emerged around the world, raising huge amounts of funding, mostly private. There are also companies called the top three, and they are striving to put them into practical use by the 2030s. One of them, the British Tokamak Energy Company, will realize the 100-million-degree-degree plasma required for nuclear fusion reactions for the first time in a company in March 2022. In order to preserve the plasma in the spherical container for a long time, efforts will be made to develop a technology using a powerful superconducting magnet, and an experimental reactor will be built by 2026.
CGN Power Group
In July 2023, China National Nuclear Corporation has formally signed a contract for the final assembly of a full high-temperature superconducting nuclear fusion device with China’s first commercial company focusing on fusion energy development (media reports speculate that it may be the company called Energy Singularity) to undertake the construction of the world’s first A fully high-temperature superconducting nuclear fusion experimental device. This all-high-temperature superconducting nuclear fusion experimental device belongs to the Tokamak route, and it will become the world’s first full-high-temperature superconducting Tokamak device to be built and operated after completion.
The China National Nuclear Corporation is actually responsible for the R&D and manufacture of the most important magnet support product in the International Thermonuclear Fusion Experimental Reactor (ITER). This is one of the important structural safety components of ITER and is responsible for supporting the entire ITER reactor. The core device – the magnet, its quality and progress are related to the operation stability and assembly progress of the entire ITER device.
On August 25, 2023, the new generation of artificial sun “China Gyre 3” achieved significant scientific research progress. For the first time, it achieved high-confinement mode operation under a plasma current of 1 million amperes, once again breaking the operating record of China’s magnetic confinement fusion device. This breakthrough has broken through key technical problems such as plasma high-current high-constraint mode operation control, high-power heating system injection coupling, and advanced divertor configuration control, which is an important milestone in China’s nuclear fusion energy development process.
Liu Yong, director of the Science and Technology Committee of the Southwest Institute of Physics of China National Nuclear Corporation, said: “Our Chinese fusion team is in the first phalanx in the world. We have achieved parity in most fields and achieved leadership in some fields.” When the 100th anniversary of the founding of New China (2049), fusion energy can enter thousands of households.”
Founded in 2021, Energy Singularity is China’s first fusion energy commercial company, focusing on the development of high magnetic field, high parameter, compact high temperature superconducting tokamak devices, etc. Before 2024, the first step of development strategy will be implemented to develop and build the world’s first compact tokamak experimental device based on full high-temperature superconducting magnets. At the end of 2023, Energy Singularity will combine advanced high-temperature superconducting tokamak and artificial intelligence technology to build the world’s first full high-temperature superconducting tokamak, and explore the operation mode of compact and highly constrained advanced tokamak.
Energy Singularity also plans to design and build a steady-state, high-temperature superconducting advanced tokamak with strong magnetic field by 2027, fully verify and lay the scientific and technological foundation for efficiently obtaining fusion energy; by 2030, build a demonstration power station.
Commonwealth Fusion Systems
Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS), which originated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has raised more than US$2 billion in total.
Tokamak Energy of the United Kingdom has increased the number of patent applications for technologies to improve the efficiency of nuclear fusion reactions, overwhelming other companies in terms of number.
The US company Federal Fusion Systems, which originated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will also use superconducting magnets. The experimental reactor, which generates more energy than it puts in, will be operational in 2025. Canada’s General Fusion will use an autonomous technology that encases and compresses plasma with liquid metal. The company plans to start up an experimental reactor in the UK by 2027.
EX-Fusion, a start-up company from Osaka University in Japan, will build the world’s first demonstration reactor in Japan to verify the technology of repeated laser nuclear fusion reactions. The goal is to commercialize it by 2030.
Businesses are moving faster than the government
These three companies have raised funds ranging from US$250 million to more than US$2 billion, and are all striving to realize the commercialization of nuclear fusion power generation in the early 2030s. If it is successfully realized, compared with the middle of the 21st century, when Japan, the United States, Europe, China and India participate in the International Thermonuclear Fusion Experimental Reactor (ITER) project, the timetable for practical application will be significantly advanced.
Major state-funded developments
|Country||Achievements, progress, and plans|
|China||China’s related patents rank first in the world.|
Strive to use the experimental reactor CFETR with power generation capability by the 2030s.
The scale of related projects exceeds ITER.
|U.S.||US Federal Fusion Systems Corporation uses superconducting magnets.|
The experimental reactor will be in operation in 2025.
U.S. Secretary of Energy Granholm stated on September 25, 2023 that he hopes to build a commercially operable nuclear fusion facility within ten years.
|U.K.||In March 2022, the British Tokamak Energy Company realized the 100-million-degree plasma required for nuclear fusion reactions for the first time among enterprises.|
|Canada||Canada-based General Fusion plans to start up an experimental reactor in the UK by 2027.|
|Japan||Japan will participate in ITER, and will begin to formulate related plans in 2023.|
China’s presence is also growing. China is striving to use the experimental reactor CFETR with power generation capability by the 2030s, which is larger than the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor. The Japanese research company Astamus ranks the companies based on their competitiveness scores based on related patent applications in 30 countries and regions including Japan, the United States and Europe. The results show that China ranks first in terms of the nationality of companies and research institutions applying for patents. After 2015, China has significantly increased important patents, surpassing the United States. The Chinese Academy of Sciences and others have important patented technologies.
In April 2023, China’s all-superconducting Tokamak nuclear fusion experimental device (EAST), known as the “artificial sun”, set a new world record and successfully achieved steady-state high-constraint plasma operation403 It is of great significance to explore the frontier physical problems of future fusion reactors, improve the economy and feasibility of nuclear fusion energy, and accelerate the realization of fusion power generation.
In fact, in January 2022, EAST set a record of successfully maintaining a high temperature of 70 million degrees for 17 minutes. In the past, the EAST facility has raised the plasma temperature to 160 million degrees Celsius for 20 seconds, maintained it at 120 million degrees Celsius for 101 seconds in May 2021, and maintained it at 70 million degrees Celsius for 1,056 seconds on December 30 of the same year record.
At present, China is the country with the most advanced nuclear fusion technology and the most active development. The goal is to start operating a prototype reactor “CFETR” with a scale larger than ITER and capable of generating electricity in the 2030s.
The U.S. Department of Energy announced in December 2022 that a nuclear fusion reaction at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California produced about 3.15 million joules (MJ) of energy, It is about 150% of the energy used by the laser (2.05 million joules), which means that for the first time, the energy produced in the nuclear fusion reaction is much higher than the energy used to initiate the reaction.
It is an important milestone in the history of nuclear fusion and will help the development of clean energy. Because physicists have been working on nuclear fusion reactions since the 1950s, the energy produced has always exceeded the energy consumed by the fusion reaction, that is, no net energy gain has been produced.
But it’s just a one-off momentary reaction. Practical applications require further improvements in efficiency to allow the reaction to continue. Kim Budil, the director of the laboratory, also said at the results release press conference that commercialization may be decades away. Whether there is a large influx of private funds for start-ups, whether development is accelerated, and whether the time for practical application can be advanced will become the focus in the future.
The U.S. Department of Energy announced on May 31, 2023 that eight U.S. companies researching fusion energy will receive $46 million in funding to develop pilot plants for fusion power generation. Commercialization is expected sometime between 2035 and 2050.
At present, the largest international nuclear fusion research project in the world is funded by the governments of 35 countries. An experimental nuclear fusion reactor has been built in France. It is planned to start operation in 2035, and nuclear fusion reactions will occur and heat will be generated. ITER was originally planned as a 30-year plan, but according to the current progress, the experimental results will not be available until 2025 at the earliest, and the commercial application will have to wait until 2035 at the earliest.
The goal of ITER is a nuclear fusion power plant from plasma physics experiment research to large-scale power production. After completion, it will become the world’s largest magnetic confinement plasma physics experiment field. The world’s largest experimental Tokamak fusion reactor.
What ITER is looking for is a relatively low-risk but high-cost fusion method called magnetic confinement fusion.
When the super-strong magnetic field is time-squeezed, it will be heated into plasma.
Japanese companies with weak financial strength will find a way out in the sales of parts and components. Kyoto Fusioneering, a start-up company originating from Kyoto University that received funding from 16 companies including Mitsubishi Corporation, will deliver the cyclotron oscillation tube, the main equipment of the nuclear fusion research reactor, to the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) in 2023. In addition, it is also striving to expand its market share in parts such as blankets that extract heat from reactors. Another company, Helical Fusion, inherited the technology of the Institute of Nuclear Fusion Science, a Japanese natural science research institution, with the goal of promoting the practical use of stable operation spirals and promoting the development of parts.
Investing in newclear fusion
Venture capital industry
According to the data of the market research agency Pitchbook, between 2015 and 2021, the transaction volume of US venture capital increased by 54%, and the transaction volume denominated in US dollars nearly tripled. In the same period, the transaction volume in the climate field increased by 2.14 times, and the transaction value increased by nearly 13.5 times!
The Washington, D.C.-based Fusion Industry Association has tracked more than $5 billion in private funding, with seven companies raising at least $200 million. And 75% of fusion financing occurred in these two years.
Chris Sacca, an early venture capitalist of Twitter (ticker: TSLA) and Uber (ticker: UBER), established a company called Lower Carbon Capital to launch a core fusion fund. Investors include enterprises, school property Foundations and family offices. Lower Carbon Capital’s investments include Avalanche Energy, whose executive Robin Langtry said the company is focused on small systems that can be built and tested quickly with commercially available equipment.
Famous individual investors
Open AI executive Altman is making the biggest bet of his career on a more futuristic company: He has invested $375 million in fusion startup Helion Energy.
In addition to Altman, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Marc Benioff and Peter Thiel, the millionaire and founder of a technology company also wants to use the nuclear fusion reaction that powers the sun and stars to provide almost unlimited energy.
Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos are willing to sponsor the research and development of new nuclear power technology and invest in this American start-up company, Commonwealth Fusion Systems, which specializes in producing clean energy through nuclear fusion.
PayPal (ticker: PYPL ) co-founder and Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel is backing Redmond, Wash.-based Helion Energy. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen invested in Irvine, California-based Tri Alpha Energy, which has reportedly raised $140 million. Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos’ investment fund is backing a Vancouver-based company called General Fusion, which has raised $94 million to date.
Benioff, founder of Salesforce (ticker: CRM), described nuclear fusion as the “holy grail” and “the unicorn of myth.” He invested in Common wealth Fusion Systems, a spin-off from the Provincial Institute of Technology aimed at creating small power plants; Bill Gates is also an investor in this company.
Why do celebrities have the same aspirations?
The industry they’re betting on is that a decades-old goal of building fusion reactors is only a few years away. The profit may reach a thousand times. Vinod Khosla, co-founder of Sun Microsystems (ticker: ORCL), invested in Realta Fusion, a spin-off from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As an investor, Khosla felt, “Either lose your money, or earn 1,000 times.”
Khosla continues to develop multiple nuclear fusion designs. In order to speed up research and development, in addition to Common wealth Fusion Systems, he also invested in another nuclear fusion company, Realta Fusion. He believes that as long as one of the companies he invests in succeeds, the earth can have a better future. He pointed out that there are only two outcomes for nuclear fusion investment, that is, “either lose all the money, or make thousands of times the profit.”
Ernest Moniz, former U.S. Secretary of Energy and now the executive director of the Energy Future Initiative (EFI), said that before 2030, there is likely to be at least one or two companies that can prove that nuclear fusion can be practically applied.
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