By harnessing the same process that powers the sun and the stars, fusion has the potential to be a zero-emission, safe and widely available source of energy.
Fusion runs on hydrogen, and this fuel must be heated to immense temperatures – over 150 million degrees Celsius – to release its energy.
Learn how a General Fusion power plant creates fusion energy with the infographic below, followed by full explanation of how the process works.
The way a General Fusion power plant works could be compared to a diesel engine: the fuel is injected into a chamber, compressed to heat it up, and the resulting burst of energy is then captured.
To get the fusion fuel to the temperatures required for fusion, the hydrogen must first be transformed from a gas to a plasma (a process called “ionization”). In a plasma state, the fuel can be heated to much higher temperatures and can be controlled using magnetic fields.
The plasma is formed at the top of the machine, and a magnetic field then pushes it into the compression chamber. At this point the plasma is around 5 million degrees Celsius – hot, but not hot enough for fusion.
Inside the compression chamber, the plasma is surrounded by a wall of liquid metal, which will capture the energy that comes out of the reaction. On the outside of the chamber are gas-driven pistons, evenly arranged around the surface.
When these pistons push down, they compress the liquid metal wall (and the plasma trapped inside it) from all sides. As the plasma gets compressed it rapidly grows hotter, until it reaches fusion temperatures and the reaction takes place. The energy from the reaction heats up the liquid metal wall, capturing the energy so that it can be used to create electricity.
The process then repeats, with cooler liquid metal cycled back in and a new plasma pulse injected into the chamber.
General Fusion’s approach is designed from the ground up to enable a practical, commercially-viable power plant. The use of pistons provides a cost-effective and well-understood way of heating the plasma, while the pulsed function of the machine avoids needing giant magnets to keep the plasma stable for long periods of time.
The liquid metal wall is another major advantage, making it possible to get the energy out of the system and convert it to electricity. This is a particularly important part, as most fusion power plant designs do not have an effective way of extracting this energy. You can learn more about how electricity is produced from fusion energy in our infographic: Bringing fusion energy to the grid.