At Tokamak Energy we believe that everyone should have access to a secure supply of clean energy at reasonable cost. We see a world where access to energy continues to drive up standards of living and economic growth, but with minimal impact on the environment. Fusion is crucial to this vision.
Fusion in tokamaks has become an engineering problem rather than a physics problem. Controlled Fusion (at the 10MW scale) was first achieved in the 1990s on two tokamaks, one in the UK and one in the US. But we now need to build machines able to generate net energy gain for a sustained period. We need to design machines that will be economical to build, run and decommission.
Tokamak Energy is breaking the problem down into a series of engineering challenges:
- Build a small prototype tokamak to demonstrate the concept (achieved 2013)
- Build a tokamak with all magnets of high temperature superconductor (achieved 2015).
- Reach fusion temperatures in a compact tokamak (we are aiming for 100 million degrees in 2018).
- Achieve energy breakeven conditions – where we could get at least as much energy out of the machine as we put in to drive fusion reactions (we aim to achieve this by 2020).
- Produce electricity for the first time by 2025.
From here we will go on to build reliable, economic, fusion power plants. This is an engineering challenge in itself – we will be holding an incredibly hot plasma in a device with a desired operation lifetime of decades.
We are currently at stage 3 and are building a new tokamak, ST40, at our facility at Milton Park, Oxfordshire. This will demonstrate that fusion temperatures are achievable in a small tokamak. Stage 4 (energy breakeven conditions) will be the “Wright Brothers Moment” for fusion – a distinctive technology breakthrough.
The Tokamak Energy approach is different to the public-funded one. We progress by delivering results quickly and creating a virtuous circle – if we deliver on a goal then we can raise money to tackle the next goal, generating momentum to make rapid progress.
These are the plans, but they need money and excellent engineers to make them happen. This is cutting edge science, engineering and technology. We can see how to make quick progress, but it is a huge challenge – and it is a race against time.
Successfully harnessing fusion will dramatically change the energy landscape for good, and the faster we can harness it the faster society will reap the benefits.
Tokamak Energy was originally established in 2009 to design and develop small Spherical Tokamaks and compact fusion reactors for a range of applications. Since 2012, the strategy has evolved to prioritise building a pilot plant to exceed fusion energy breakeven.
Tokamak Energy grew from Culham Laboratory, the world’s leading centre for magnetic fusion energy research. Culham is home to the world’s most powerful tokamak, JET, which produced 16MW of fusion power in 1997. Tokamak Energy is particularly focused on Spherical Tokamaks, pioneered at Culham, because these compact devices can achieve a much higher plasma pressure for a given magnetic field than conventional tokamaks, i.e. they are more efficient.
Theoretical calculations show that a Spherical Tokamak using high fields produced by HTS magnets could be significantly smaller than other fusion machines currently proposed. For example, a compact ST power plant would have a volume up to 100 times smaller than ITER – the successor to JET currently being built in France at a cost of €20bn – so would be approximately room-sized rather than aircraft-hangar-sized. This development creates such a huge opportunity that the company is focusing all its efforts and resources on developing a compact Spherical Tokamak fusion energy source to demonstrate net energy gain.
Grants, awards and accolades
- Won three prestigious UK R&D grants and a “Knowledge Transfer Partnership” grant (worth $800k in total) in the first few years.
- Selected for the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition 2015 presenting plans for #FasterFusion.
- Announced as a Technology Pioneer of the World Economic Forum, August 2015.
- David Kingham delivered the 2016 Institution of Mechanical Engineers John Player Lecture on Fusion as an Engineering Challenge.
- Selected as one of 3 leading innovative ideas in fusion by International Energy Agency in 2017.
Fusion is about to get a lot more exciting!