On March 9, 2022, Energy Futures Initiative (EFI) CEO Ernest Moniz moderated a special session named, “Fusion: Closer than you think” at CERA Week 2022 in Houston, Texas. CERA Week is an annual conference that brings together global leaders to advance solutions for global energy markets, geopolitics, and technology and has been called the energy “industry’s Superbowl.”
One such energy technology is nuclear fusion; however, debate over the practicality of scaling and commercializing fusion energy has existed for decades. This form of power would generate electricity from nuclear fusion reactions; gases need to be heated to extremely high temperatures of about 150 million degrees Celsius. In this panel, experts discussed recent technological breakthroughs that bring fusion closer to scale.
“Even more important than my enthusiasm is the fact that the private sector has put over $4 billion into this field,” Moniz said. He sees this as a sign of investor confidence.
Panelist Sir Steven Cowley (Director of Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory) explained that in the last year, the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore Lab achieved a fusion yield of 1.3 mega joules from a small micro explosion powered by a laser energy of close to 2 mega joules. He called it an incredible breakthrough and was hopeful that in the next few years, that yield could go up very quickly.
Despite the breakthroughs, fusion energy still has many challenges to overcome. From plasma heating to electric and magnetic fields, to confinement of particles, it is a complex process, Moniz said. “It raises the question… why bother? Because it’s a game-changer,” Moniz said. “Fusion energy is “carbon-free, high-energy density, without the problems that you can associate with fission reactors….”
Panelist Bob Mumgaard (Chief Executive Officer of Commonwealth Fusion Systems) said that fusion’s transition to commercialization is much further along than previously thought, benefiting from advancements in the science, technology, and coalitions. “We’re seeing the birth of an industry,” Mumgaard said. “It’s like being there at the beginning of the automobile.”
Panelist Michl Binderbauer (Chief Executive Officer of TAE Technologies, Inc.) said his company’s reactor-scale platform Copernicus is a “great stepping stone” to cost-effective nuclear fusion, reaching the 100-to-150-million-degree point. He expressed hope that it will also be a driver for the industry.
Moniz added, “There is a very good probability that privately financed companies are going to demonstrate what we need in this decade.” He noted that we may have power plants generating fusion energy at scale in the next decade.
Moniz also hosted a
Watch videos of those two Voices of Innovation segments below:
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