Why fusion energy is the answer to energy scarcityBlog
23 February 2021

Why fusion energy is the answer to energy scarcity

The world’s demand for energy grows every year, but the natural sources we rely on to power our industrial way of life are diminishing at an alarming rate, particularly if we consider the self-imposed necessity to stop using fossil fuels for environmental reasons. Energy scarcity is an existential threat to both the developed and developing worlds.

Fusion could provide the reliable, abundant and scalable technology that the world needs for a cleaner, greener tomorrow.

At Tokamak Energy, we’re developing spherical tokamaks that could generate the safe and sustainable energy required. Our innovative designs, coupled with next-generation magnets and materials, could deliver a future that’s free from fossil fuels.

We are experiencing an energy crisis

From hurricanes in the Caribbean to heatwaves in China, and seemingly annual droughts and floods in the UK, the world faces the growing crisis of extreme weather events caused by climate change.

Heatwaves, record temperatures and extreme weather are some of the inevitable consequences of our continued use of fossil fuels for power generation. In the EU, power generation was responsible for 78% of emissions in 2015. Rapidly growing economies such as China are powered by fossil fuels, and the country is the world’s leading producer and consumer of electricity since 2011.

The world urgently needs a reliable, abundant and scalable energy supply that’s clean, green and safe. Without action, we face the realistic prospect of failing to meet the 2015 Paris Agreement’s target to limit global temperature rises to below 2 degrees Celsius.

Much progress has been made toward embracing sustainable sources of power, such as solar, wind and wave. While it is theoretically possible for renewables to provide 100% of the world’s power requirements, it’s unlikely to ever be practical or profitable. Just recently, an intense cold snap across America brought snow to Texas and left millions without power in freezing temperatures as wind turbines froze, solar panels covered with snow and increased demand destabilised the grid.  These kinds of events show the importance of having a mix of energy sources and a flexible grid.

To continue to survive and thrive, we must develop new, sustainable sources of power that can complement renewables and operate at the scale we need, whatever the weather.

How fusion could be the answer

Fusion energy has long held the potential to provide a safe and sustainable way to generate vast amounts of electricity.  Fusion uses hydrogen, a natural material found abundantly across the world. Previous experiments have struggled to create and capture this energy, but new developments in materials technology could make affordable fusion power a reality.

At Tokamak Energy, our unique spherical tokamak design uses high-temperature superconducting magnets, which enables us to develop and build smaller fusion modules. These could be used individually for distributed power or be operated together to meet high energy demands.

Each spherical tokamak module is incredibly powerful. A single module could generate approximately 150 megawatts of energy, and fuel use is small.  Just one kilogram of fusion fuels produces as much energy as 10 million kilograms of fossil fuel–that’s like hundreds of truckloads of coal.

As well as a realistic source of renewable energy at the scale required to power the planet, modular-based fusion power is a more flexible and reliable solution. Several modules could be grouped together on a standard power station site, providing gigawatt power. That’s enough to provide power for 300,000 homes, or a city the size of Bristol.

This modular approach improves the reliability and flexibility of power generation. Modules could be turned on and off to manage peaks and troughs in demand. If a module fails, other modules could provide redundancy cover, ensuring a consistent flow of energy to customers.

Purpose-built power

Unlike costly and complicated nuclear fission reactors, our aim is for compact spherical tokamaks to be mostly constructed in production facilities and shipped to customers ready to install.

Spherical tokamaks could be installed in a decommissioned coal-fired power plant, where the infrastructure and grid connection already exists. Installation could be completed in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the cost of commissioning a new power station.

Compact spherical tokamaks also produce a much greater energy yield from a smaller footprint than conventional designs of tokamak, potentially proving a more attractive investment to operators.

Our spherical tokamak will enable operators and governments to transform existing brownfield sites into renewable energy production centres. It’s a truly sustainable solution.

Power and potential 

The future of fusion technology is an exciting challenge that balances physics, engineering, materials science and economics to create the optimum solution.

The world needs a reliable, abundant and scalable energy supply that is also clean, green and safe. Fusion is our best option to complement renewables and replace fossil fuels as firm, carbon-free, base load power, but also as heat for industrial processes and hydrogen generation.

We’re translating our designs from the page to the powerplant and are making great strides to create the world’s first fusion-powered machine connected to the grid in the  2030s. We’re confident about the technology and are making incredible progress in our work.