A Historic Decision: To Demonstrate Practical Fusion at Culham

By Christofer Mowry, Chief Executive Officer at General Fusion. The word “practical” weaves descriptive threads of relevance into our social tapestry of economic activity. It articulates a measure of consequence for fusion energy. For fusion to have consequence for society’s endeavor to decarbonize its economies, the technology must be practical – practical in the sense of timeliness and efficient utility, of seamless integration into the future of energy, and of easy embrace by its intended beneficiaries.

On the 17th of June 2021, General Fusion accepted the UK government’s offer to host our Fusion Demonstration Plant (FDP) at their Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (Culham) outside of London. Construction will begin in the fall of 2022 and, when complete in 2025, the FDP will showcase the manifold practicality of our technology. This decision also marks a historic milestone by becoming the first, of perhaps several, public-private partnerships created exclusively to support power plant-relevant demonstrations of fusion energy. It portends newly productive collaboration between government-sponsored research institutions and private enterprise, collaboration that is certain to quicken the pace of fusion technology commercialization.

The General Fusion FDP, being developed and deployed with support from a global consortium of leading industrial companies, is the first private endeavor seeking to demonstrate the ability to cost-effectively and reliably create fusion conditions in a power plant-relevant environment.  At 70 percent of full scale, it will be powerful enough to heat hydrogen plasma fuel to fusion temperatures of 150 million degrees. Utilizing our pulsed Magnetized Target Fusion (MTF) technology, the FDP is designed to refine those technical performance metrics that will become the measure of our technology’s ability to economically produce energy, durably operate as a power plant, and easily follow the fluctuating demands of electricity on power grids. The validation of these metrics during operation of the FDP will allow our customer and government partners to proceed with commitments to jointly develop and construct the first commercial fusion pilot plants later in the 2020s.

Conceived to be more than pure technology validation, the FDP is intended to be prototypical of how General Fusion and our consortium partners procure critical components and subsequently construct the first commercial fusion pilot power plants. Our industrial consortium will transfer the lessons we learn building the FDP over the next several years to these subsequent projects. This begins our journey down the fusion power plant deployment learning curve, leading us to ever-more competitive construction costs and enabling fusion’s adoption at scale across the global energy and infrastructure markets. The utility of a technology for society’s pursuit of “net-zero carbon” rests on economics as much as emissions. Fusion energy must become competitive with the cost of electricity generated by existing carbon-intensive base load power technologies if it is to be widely embraced as the new on-demand energy source of choice in power markets around the world.

We also recognize that the FDP must serve as a vehicle of engagement with the constituents of society who will determine the role which fusion plays in the future of energy. These are the customers, regulators, investors, and communities who will, own, operate, and use fusion power plants. When completed in 2025, the FDP facility will be the stage on which General Fusion will communicate to these end-users how our MTF technology can be integrated into a new carbon-free portfolio of energy generation assets. It will be a platform for regulators to assess licensing requirements for commercial fusion power plants. And it will become a center for convening the policymakers, community leaders, and stakeholders who are shaping this swiftly emerging future of energy in a decarbonized world.

Our decision to demonstrate practical fusion energy at Culham, internationally recognized as a leading fusion research center, marks the end of a deliberate three-year global site selection process. Locating our FDP in Europe complements our rapid North American growth in Vancouver, Canada, and elsewhere. In this respect, our FDP site selection is also a manifestation of General Fusion’s ability to effectively engage governments, fusion research institutions, and policymakers around the world in a mutually beneficial manner. Global engagement of stakeholders is a competency that provides General Fusion with access to the financial capital, enabling technologies, and energy markets necessary for the success of our company and our mission. We are proud of General Fusion’s leadership in commercializing practical fusion energy and delighted to be announcing our Fusion Demonstration Plant’s site selection at Culham in partnership with the UK government.