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The Components of a Fusion Power Plant

A magnetized target fusion system has 3 main components: a plasma injector, which supplies the fuel; an array of pistons, to compress the fuel; and a chamber of spinning liquid metal, to hold the fuel and capture the energy.

Guided by advanced computer simulation, General Fusion is developing and optimizing each of these components in preparation to build a demonstration fusion power plant.

Plasma Injector

Plasma injectors form the hydrogen fuel into a hot plasma and trap it in a magnetic field, ready for compression.  The key challenges are making a plasma that is stable, so that it holds on to its heat, and that lasts long enough to be compressed by the pistons. Through our iterative experimental program General Fusion has built and tested 15 different plasma injector systems, operating multiple machines at the same time and firing up to 100 plasma shots a day. The insights gained from these experiments have enabled the company to create the best plasmas of their type, with temperatures over 5 million degrees and lifespans exceeding that required for compression. The data from the small scale SPECTOR injectors is now being used to design a new power plant scale large injector.

Plasma Injector

Plasma injectors form the hydrogen fuel into a hot plasma and trap it in a magnetic field, ready for compression.  The key challenges are making a plasma that is stable, so that it holds on to its heat, and that lasts long enough to be compressed by the pistons. Through our iterative experimental program General Fusion has built and tested 15 different plasma injector systems, operating multiple machines at the same time and firing up to 100 plasma shots a day. The insights gained from these experiments have enabled the company to create the best plasmas of their type, with temperatures over 5 million degrees and lifespans exceeding that required for compression. The data from the small scale SPECTOR injectors is now being used to design a new power plant scale large injector.

General Fusion Sphere

Liquid Metal Wall

The liquid metal inner wall is a major practical advantage of General Fusion’s approach, both compressing the plasma and capturing the energy from the reaction. In 2012, the company built a compression system prototype, demonstrating the ability to pump liquid metal and form a vortex.

HP3 Piston

Pistons

An array of pistons is used to collapse the liquid metal vortex and compress the plasma. To form a perfectly symmetrical shockwave, these pistons must strike within fractions of a second of each other. Through its compression system prototype, General Fusion has demonstrated the ability to synchronize two-tonne pistons to within 5 microseconds accuracy, exceeding the timing precision required in a power plant.

Electricity Generation

The energy from the fusion reaction is captured in the liquid metal wall that lines the fusion chamber. To convert the energy into electricity, the hot liquid metal is pumped out through a heat exchanger to produce electricity via a steam turbine. This process, from the heat exchanger to the turbine and onward to the grid, is existing technology that is used in today’s coal, gas and nuclear power plants. To implement these electricity generation systems in a power plant, General Fusion will partner with engineering firms that specialize in this field.

Steam Turbine Image: Courtesy — Wikipedia Creative Commons