I attended the Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles this week – a gathering of top business leaders, finance executives, innovators and politicians. The profile of fusion energy at conferences like this continues to grow – from TED to GLOBE to Milken and many more. For the first time in the conference’s history fusion energy had its own panel, with Michel Laberge (General Fusion), Dennis Whyte (MIT), Michl Binderbauer (Tri-Alpha Energy), and Tom McGuire (Lockheed Martin) discussing the progress in fusion energy and the barriers that remain (you can watch the full panel discussion in the video at the end of this post). Key themes from this panel included:
- Fusion energy has made much more progress than the public realizes. We are obtaining over 10,000 times more fusion energy out of experiments than we were 30 years ago.
- ITER, the large (very large!) fusion energy plant under construction in the south of France, is significantly behind its timelines and well over budget – however, the research being done has added significant value to the entire field of fusion science and delivered a better understanding of plasma physics.
- ITER, and its methodology (tokamaks / magnetic fusion) have advanced the science and obtained, within a factor of two, net energy production, but the resulting plants are too big. Commercial fusion will require smaller, more practical concepts to be fully commercialized.
- Economics must be the primary driver of the field – whether a plant can be commercially viable when pitted against natural gas, solar and wind.
A comment echoed across the panel was that those working in the field of fusion research do not view each other as competitors at this stage. We continue to support each other and share information.
It was heartening to see fusion being discussed around the conference, even by those in the fossil fuel industry. When asked where we will obtain our energy from in 40 years, US Senator Lisa Murkowski and the CEO of Freeport LNG commented it could come from fusion energy. Admittedly 40 years is too long – but that is where the fusion entrepreneurs are making a difference – finding a commercially-viable, practical and faster way to fusion energy.
– Nathan Gilliland, General Fusion CEO