Vancouver is a land of scenic harbors, tall mountains and startups trying to harness the limits of physics.
In town for the TED conference, I had the occasion to visit two such companies yesterday:D-Wave and General Fusion. D-Wave, a quantum computing company, is all about the very cold and the rather tiny. It has built enormous refrigerators that each house a single chip, laced with “qubits” that can be in the superposition of both 1 and 0 at the same time and can carry an electric current with no resistance at low temperatures.
Last week, The Vancouver Sun ran a story from The Edmonton Journal about progress in the field of fusion energy and asked whether Canada “could be left in the dust in terms of research.”
While Canada has not had a national fusion program since the 1990s, there is an internationally recognized fusion effort right here in Metro Vancouver: General Fusion. And by far the largest concentration of fusion research and development in this country is also right here, at General Fusion’s Burnaby headquarters. With the progress the company is making and activity building around the world, the time is right to look at the opportunity for Canada in fusion energy.
In the early 70s, Rob Goldston was a graduate student in plasma physics, and experiments to produce fusion energy were just starting to bear fruit.
“We had a huge party because we had made 1/1000th of a joule of fusion energy,” he told me. “It was ridiculous, it was a tiny amount of energy." A 35-watt light bulb, for instance, uses 35 joules every second. Now, 40 years later, the game has changed. A recent experiment at the Joint European Torus fusion reactor in the United Kingdom produced 20 million joules. And the National Ignition Facility in California just reached a milestone by producing more energy in a fusion reaction than was needed to start that reaction.