Nuclear fusion occurs when the nuclei, or central cores, of atoms come into contact with one another and bind together. This releases large amounts of energy, which can be converted to heat and used to generate electricity just like in any other thermal power plant.
Creating the conditions for nuclear fusion involves:
assembling the right types of atoms (such as deuterium and tritium, which are isotopes of hydrogen),
energizing the nuclei so they can collide (this involves raising the temperature to 150 million °C), and
giving the nuclei sufficient time to interact (the higher the density and the longer the time, the greater the number of collisions that will occur).
The two predominant approaches to nuclear fusion development are “magnetic fusion” and “inertial confinement fusion”. Magnetic fusion involves using magnetic fields to hold relatively low-density plasma of deuterium and tritium for sufficient time such that a lot of nuclei collide and fuse. Inertial confinement fusion involves imploding a small sphere of deuterium and tritium with such energy that the nuclei momentarily reach very high-density fusion conditions.
General Fusion’s approach is a hybrid between magnetic fusion and inertial confinement fusion known as “magnetized target fusion”. Magnetized target fusion first traps a relatively low-temperature and low-density plasma of deuterium and tritium in a magnetic field (similar to magnetic fusion) and then compresses the plasma to high-temperature and high-density fusion conditions (much like inertial confinement fusion). This hybrid approach
compresses the target more slowly than inertial confinement fusion, allowing the energy for compression to be delivered by much less expensive technology than lasers. Magnetized target fusion also creates higher density conditions than magnetic fusion, reducing the required containment time. Together, this combination of a slower compression rate and shorter containment time results in a simpler, cheaper and less power-intensive fusion generator design.
Magnetized target fusion is well known in the fusion community and was first explored by the US Naval Research Lab in Washington DC about 30 years ago. Our approach builds on these original concepts, but substitutes a novel, mechanical-acoustic means of compressing the plasma and incorporates up-to-date control, cooling and plasma generation technologies.