Fusion – the energy that powers the Sun – will be a critical partner to complement renewable and other low carbon technologies and sustain a net zero world.
Not only will fusion energy be able to provide power to the grid in the form of reliable, constant, on demand, low-cost electricity for homes and businesses, it will also provide a vital heat source for hard-to-abate industrial sectors such as steel, cement, and chemical manufacture. Further, it will supply desalination plants to provide clean water to communities and support the manufacture of synthetic fuels.
In addition, it will make a significant contribution to the efficient production of clean hydrogen, for future hydrogen grids.
Fusion is inherently safe: it relies on optimal plasma temperature, density, and confinement conditions. Unlike fission, if disrupted, it cannot race out of control.
A developing global fusion supply chain, with many companies already based in the UK, opens a platform for innovation and significant job creation, while alternative technology applications in other industries, such as aerospace and healthcare present further revenue opportunities.
With over twenty fusion start-ups globally and increasing collaboration between the private and public sectors, momentum in the sector is gathering pace. Investors are awakening to this opportunity – funding provided to private fusion development has reached over $4.8bn, according to the Fusion Industry Association (FIA).
Developers, including Tokamak Energy, are increasingly optimistic about fusion energy’s near-term potential. The most recent FIA report (published in July 2022) stated that 93% of companies surveyed believe that fusion electricity will be on the grid in the 2030s – up from 83% a year previously. It is little wonder that fusion is increasingly being seen as a clean energy technology with vast near-term potential for commercialisation.
For the UK, fusion could be significant. As the Ukraine war has shown in Europe, energy security, with a diversified, resilient grid is an essential prerequisite for a successful, robust and modern, developed economy. The UK, like many countries, urgently needs to develop and diversify its own forms of energy generation, become more self-reliant and better able to absorb future geopolitical, and related energy, shocks.
With the current government’s ambition to make the UK a science and innovation ‘superpower’ set to continue under new leadership, there is no better time to back what could become a strategic industry sector.
The signs are encouraging with the UK government launching the world’s first Fusion Strategy last year to build on the country’s decades of work on the technology.
The recent publication of an industry wide government consultation on fusion regulation will continue to support the sector and inject momentum at the right time.
Importantly, the private sector is stepping up to the challenge.
Earlier this year, Tokamak Energy achieved the threshold of 100m° Celsius plasma temperature, the threshold for fusion. This was achieved in our spherical tokamak (ST40) device, which applies very strong magnetic fields to contain a superheated “doughnut-shaped” plasma, in a vacuum sealed chamber.
This critical milestone moves us closer to commercial fusion and is a world-first, being the highest ever plasma temperature recorded in a privately funded tokamak. Crucially, our results have been verified by an independent advisory board consisting of international diagnostic and tokamak experts.
The focus now turns to our next generation, high field spherical tokamak device, which will use the world’s most powerful high-temperature superconducting (HTS) magnets to hold the hot plasma in place.
We anticipate that this device will demonstrate multiple advanced technologies for fusion energy and will inform the design of our first commercial fusion pilot plant, scheduled to be commissioned in the early 2030s.
For this, we will continue to grow our global team, invest in exciting new talent, and encourage diversity of thought and background to ensure that we have the right blend of skills to make commercial fusion a reality.
Moreover, we’ve backed our technological programme with a new brand that reflects the renewed vision of the company. It is an exciting development for us and reflects our global ambition, as well as our heritage.
We are in a race against time to replace reliance on fossil fuels and make fusion energy a globally available and secure resource for the world’s energy needs. We believe our technology of spherical tokamaks and HTS magnets will mean we can all access clean, sustainable and low-cost energy wherever and whenever it is needed.
At Tokamak Energy we are pursuing a pioneering vision, applying tenacious dedication and diverse expertise.
This article was written by Chris Kelsall, CEO of Tokamak Energy.