Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is Tokamak Energy planning to do? How will this lead to a new source of low carbon energy?
Our business plan is to develop fusion power in compact tokamaks. The world needs a new power source that is abundant, safe and CO2-free. Fusion is one of the few options available.
The tokamak is the leading technology for controlled fusion. The JET tokamak at Culham Laboratory in the UK has produced 16MW of controlled fusion power (but with 24 MW of power to heat the plasma).
Our plan, based on compact spherical tokamaks with magnets made from high temperature superconductors will deliver a fusion power gain in 5 years.
The conventional view is that tokamaks have to be huge to produce power, however our latest research (published in Nuclear Fusion in 2015 and with a follow-up in 2016) shows that compact tokamaks can produce power and that they can achieve high energy gain with a power <100MWe. These results are surprising and controversial, but they are well supported by experimental data, theoretical analysis and our engineering calculations.
We are now building a compact, high magnetic field, spherical tokamak to prove that our results are correct. This 10MEuro device will be assembled by March 2017 and is aiming for plasma temperatures of 15 million degrees.
Initial market introduction will be single 100MWe power plants for less price-sensitive off grid applications. Large scale market introduction will be installation of many factory built 100MWe units on existing power station sites.
2. Potential: What is the potential scale of impact of this idea for compact fusion?
Compact fusion devices can be developed much more quickly than mainstream fusion (huge tokamaks or huge laser inertial fusion devices). And once developed, the devices can be built and deployed rapidly.
Compact tokamaks will designed to use abundant fuel (deuterium plus tritium bred from lithium inside the device). The installed base could increase dramatically from an initial 100 MWe to >3GWe in 5 years. For example, fission power, despite safety concerns, went from an initial pilot plant at Shippingport, Pennsylvania, producing 100MWe in 1958 to supplying about 15% of US electricity in 15 years.
Fusion devices produce tiny amounts of waste and can be safely located on the edge of towns and cities, for example to replace existing coal-fired power plants. There is no risk of meltdown or weapons proliferation and no emissions of CO2 or any other pollutants.
Fusion power from compact tokamaks can be a game-changer for CO2 emissions by 2050 and must be pursued.
3. Introduction of the Technology: What are the drivers for market introduction and market share growth?
The key driver for initial market introduction is an engineering proof of principle, first of fusion power gain and then of electricity production. This will result in a highly attractive device for off-grid applications.
The key driver then for market share growth and adoption for on grid power stations will be capital cost reduction. There is great scope for the cost of high temperature superconductors to dramatically reduce as demand increases. Factory manufacture enables production line efficiencies to continually drive costs down and volumes up. Public acceptance will enable rapid market share growth.
4. Acceleration can this all happen more quickly?
Tokamak Energy is seeking additional investment to accelerate the plans. In the short term we would like to expand our engineering centre, employ a larger team and strengthen our international collaborations. We would also like to form a joint venture with a leading supplier of high temperature superconductor to improve supply and reduce cost of this crucial material. Additional investment would allow us to tackle more problems in parallel.
One blockage, that is being removed, is that of skepticism about new ideas and resistance to disruptive innovation of the type we are proposing. We are now at the point of having sufficient published evidence to rebut the skepticism and interest is mostly positive, but it can take a long time to overcome institutional resistance to disruptive innovation.
5. Cost and Affordability: Can the cost be reduced? By how much and over what timescale?
Yes. There is great scope for reduction of materials costs over the lifetime of a device, starting with high temperature superconductors and moving on to other materials, especially plasma facing materials. The price/performance ratio of high temperature superconductor is already expected to improve by a factor of 10 in 5 years. Further investment, allied with an exciting new high volume application, should drive down costs even more rapidly.
Factory production will also enable rapid cost reduction. Our target is to increase production volumes by a factor of ten every five years at the same time as reducing the manufactured cost per power module core by 50%.
6. Feasability and Scalability: What problems exist to reach the full potential?
The key problems are proof of feasibility: first with our latest high magnetic field device in 2016 and 2017; then with our world-first demonstration of energy gain in controlled fusion; and then with the first demonstration of electricity from fusion. Each stage of proof is necessary and achieving each goal will attract more investment.
Scalability is less of a problem. Factory production is manageable (the process, materials demands, complexity and scale is comparable to that of jet engines or magnetic resonance imaging systems) and there will be enthusiasm from consumers worldwide, in contrast to most other energy technologies. There are also plenty of existing power plant sites suitable for compact tokamaks.