By Christofer Mowry, Chief Executive Officer at General Fusion
There is strength in numbers. This maxim certainly applies to establishing the credibility of new technology. The ability of like-minded stakeholders to come together with one voice to promote the benefits of a new idea is essential to the success of any frontier industry. Not only did the launch of the Fusion Industry Association (FIA) shine a bright light on our emerging industry, but it confirmed that fusion has reached a new level of commercial maturity. When General Fusion was founded in 2002, our company joined a field of one, effectively doubling the size of a new industrial sector. Today, there are dozens of active private fusion ventures around the world, ventures built on more than $1 billion of invested private capital over the last decade, all at varying stages of funding and development—but all with the common goal of bringing fusion into the energy marketplace.
[vc_row][vc_column width=’1/2′]Although the FIA officially launched in November 2018, it has been several years in the making. Early efforts to pull together the industry were unable to gain traction and stalled. Organizing a collection of entrepreneurs, scientists, and investors into a unified industry organization is not trivial, especially considering the widely varying needs of each fusion venture, as well as the breadth of technologies and differences in stage of development. To unify this new industry, a catalyst was needed.
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In late 2017, General Fusion determined that the next step in commercializing our technology would be the development and deployment of a power plant-scale Fusion Demonstration Plant. Shortly after our decision, another fusion company was launched, one which also articulated plans to build large machines in the near future. Both companies understood that our success with large private fusion demonstration projects would depend, in part, on the ability to effectively engage key stakeholders in the government and academic fusion research communities. Lawmakers and technology leaders readily accepted the message of our ambitions. Many responded with offers to support the pursuit of demonstration plants on the scale of many national applied fusion research facilities. Not surprisingly, during their conversations among the various companies advocating for similar support, these stakeholders sometimes heard conflicting and contradictory details. As a result, we received a common theme in their feedback: Come back to us speaking with one voice for your new industry.
Understanding the benefits of working together to articulate a harmonized message to these stakeholders about our common goals, General Fusion and a core group of other private fusion ventures pledged support in co-founding the FIA. In its very short tenure, the Association has grown to 19 members, together with 8 affiliate members. Although the FIA, which we prominently help lead, can boast of several early accomplishments, I want to highlight two recent events which demonstrate the effectiveness of this new organization.
Soon after its formation, the FIA began to advocate for funding in support of technical collaboration between the public and private fusion energy sectors. On 1 June 2019, the U.S. Department of Energy launched the “Innovation Network for Fusion Energy” (INFUSE) program to do exactly that. As we state in the FIA website: “This new initiative within the Office of Fusion Energy Sciences will allow private companies to apply for vouchers that they would be able to spend at government-funded labs. In this way, the awards would fund private work at public laboratories within the DOE complex; helping private companies accelerate their pathway towards fusion energy.”
Only a few short weeks later, on 13 June 2019, the FIA philanthropic member Stellar Energy Foundation, in collaboration with the FIA, hosted a Roadmap to the Fusion Economy Workshop in New York City. The invitation-only event was held at the Flatiron Institute and quickly reached its 100+ person capacity limit. During this half-day event, panelists including leaders from technology, finance, government, and philanthropy talked about how to make commercial fusion energy a reality in a timeframe relevant for mitigation of climate change and other pressing environmental challenges. Topics of our conversation included lessons learned from commercializing other energy technologies, economic development, regional planning, the insurance sector, Wall Street, the role of government, public-private partnerships, and investment opportunities. The success of the event prompted commitments to begin preparing for another workshop in 2020, this time hosted by a prominent financial institution in New York.
As General Fusion continues to forge the path toward commercialization of arguably the most transformational clean energy technology of the 21st century, we are encouraged and motivated by the increasing number of companies and stakeholders around the world working together productively and effectively to achieve this goal. We invite you to join us in our quest.