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Unlimited Energy

Harnessing the Sun’s Fuel

Fusion powers the sun, and harnessing fusion here on earth would transform the world’s energy supply.  Fusion fuel is abundant and fusion is clean, resulting in no pollution or greenhouse gas emissions. Fusion is also safe: the process cannot runaway and produces no long-lived radioactive waste.

How Fusion Powers the Sun

Inside the sun's core, pressures are millions of times more than the surface of the earth, and the temperature reaches more than 15 million degrees C. Every second, this pressure and heat convert 600 million tons of hydrogen into helium, releasing a tremendous amount of heat and energy.

The Energy Squeeze is On: World energy consumption is expected to increase by over 50% by 2030 yet world energy reserves for non-renewable sources are running out. Where is the energy going to come from?

Abundant

Fusion’s Fuel is Everywhere

Fusion energy is fueled by deuterium and tritium, isotopes which can be easily extracted from seawater and derived from lithium, in abundant supply.  There is enough to power the planet for hundreds of millions of years.

The world’s seawater constitutes a 23 trillion-tonne reserve of deuterium, an isotope that is easily extracted. If fusion power plants were to generate all of today’s electricity, this seawater reserve would last over 65 billion years. Additionally, lithium is abundant and widely available in land and sea reserves sufficient enough for over 200 million years of fusion power plant-based electricity production.

Greenhouse gases (GHG), such as CO2, are altering the world's climate. Atmospheric CO2 has climbed by 25% since the 1950s and is approaching levels where scientists predict unavoidable consequences.

Clean

Solving the Climate Crisis

Beyond fusion’s ability to generate power without pollution or GHG emissions, it’s also a more land-friendly solution than traditional renewable energy technologies like wind and solar. It requires very little space and can be located close to cities and other sources of demand.

 

Today, coal-fired electricity generation provides nearly 40% of the world's electricity, produces 25% of all GHGs, and is a major source of air pollution. Natural gas provides another 20% of the world's electricity and generates nearly 20% of global GHGs. To displace them we need generation sources that avoid the pollution, land impacts, and GHG emissions while remaining convenient, economical, and widely available. Fusion could meet this challenge.

Safe

Where You Live, Work, and Play

Fusion power is inherently safe. It’s extremely hard to initiate and sustain, and uses very little fuel at any given time. Any breakdown will instantly stop the fusion reaction. Meltdown or catastrophic release of radioactive material is impossible and no long-lived radioactive waste is produced.

Many people don't realize that coal plants disperse the radioactive elements uranium and thorium in their exhaust.

Unlike coal, fusion power plants will not release radioactive materials. Fusion uses - and consumes - only small quantities of tritium, an isotope commonly-used inside glow-in-the-dark “EXIT” signs and as a biological tracer in nuclear medicine. It’s mildly radioactive, has a short 12-year half life, and is only dangerous to humans if ingested.
  • Unlimited Energy
  • Abundant
  • Clean
  • Safe
 

The Case For General Fusion

Dr. Michel Laberge founded General Fusion with a singular focus to develop economically viable fusion energy. His key insight was realizing that Magnetized Target Fusion, with the aid of modern electronics, materials, and advances in plasma physics, could provide a faster, lower cost, and more practical path to fusion power.

“One can ask why General Fusion might succeed where others failed. The reason I think is that General Fusion is seizing on a unique opportunity when government programs are fully committed to supporting NIF and ITER... General Fusion has chosen the middle ground, harking back to the LINUS project 30 years ago but never tested.”

T. Kenneth Fowler, Former Associate Director, Fusion, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

How it Works

General Fusion’s Magnetized Target Fusion system uses a sphere, filled with molten lead-lithium that is pumped to form a vortex.  On each pulse, magnetically-confined plasma is injected into the vortex. Around the sphere, an array of pistons impact and drive a pressure wave into the centre of the sphere, compressing the plasma to fusion conditions.

 

General Fusion has developed its technology from the beginning knowing that success requires more than solving science challenges. For General Fusion, success means delivering fusion energy with an approach that has a clear and practical path to commercially-viable and competitive power generation.

“The venture capital-funded effort by General Fusion may be more successful in addressing the needs of a fusion power plant in terms of entry-level of output power, radioactivity issues and development cost.”

Dr. Peter Turchi, Former Chief, Plasma Technology Branch, Naval Research Laboratory

Advantages

 
 

Inherently Practical

General Fusion’s system has three key advantages that allow for rapid and lower cost development, and a fast path to commercialization:

  • A thick liquid metal wall
  • A compressed gas driver
  • No consumables

 

To make a major impact on the energy landscape, fusion must be both technically viable and economically competitive with existing energy sources. General Fusion's entire approach to fusion technology stems from a commitment to commercial viability and a drive to use economics to displace the low cost, carbon-based incumbents of coal and natural gas.

Thick Liquid Metal WallKey Advantage: Thick Liquid Metal Wall

The thick liquid metal wall surrounding the fusion reaction in General Fusion’s system is a major practical advantage.  The energy from the fusion reaction is absorbed by the liquid metal, shielding the steel sphere and preventing damage.  As it is absorbed, the energy heats the liquid metal and the hot liquid metal can be used to create steam, a convenient way to extract the fusion energy.  The lithium in this same liquid metal is also easily bred into the tritium fuel required for ongoing operation.

 

Key Advantage: Compressed Gas

All fusion systems must first heat their fuel to extreme temperatures to initiate fusion reactions.  This requires energy, and the cost of most fusion systems is high because of expensive energy drivers.  Inertial confinement fusion, for example, uses massive capacitor banks and lasers to drive their fusion reaction.

General Fusion, on the other hand, uses steam, a compressed gas that is a proven and inexpensive way to store and release a lot of energy.  Using computer-controlled, steam-driven pistons allows General Fusion to power a fusion reaction for less than 1% the cost of other fusion drivers.

 

plasma_toroid_2Key Advantage: No Consumables

It is often proposed that pulsed rather than steady-state approaches may be more practical for fusion.  Most pulsed systems, such as inertial confinement, use targets made of lead, aluminum, and even gold, which are destroyed on each pulse.  The amount of electricity produced from a single pulse would be worth only a few dollars, so these targets must be very inexpensive for these pulsed systems to be practical. In contrast, the target in General Fusion’s system is a spheromak plasma composed entirely of fusion fuel – there are no consumables.

 
 

Where We Are

 
 

Proving It Can Be Built

General Fusion is developing full scale subsystems to demonstrate that they can meet their performance targets.  This includes full scale plasma injectors and acoustic drivers, and liquid metal vortex compression tests. Every step is matched with simulation to guide ongoing development work.

Key Subsystem: Plasma InjectorsInjector Simulation

Above and below the central sphere in General Fusion’s system are plasma injectors.  These cone-shaped devices form a “spheromak”, a doughnut-shaped plasma, wrapped in magnetic field.  The spheromak is then accelerated down the cone, compressing and heating the plasma.

Full scale plasma injectors – the largest in the world – have been constructed to demonstrate formation of the required spheromak plasma.

 

Key Subsystem: Acoustic Drivers

General Fusion’s novel system to deliver energy to heat the hydrogen fuel to fusion conditions are the acoustic drivers, or pistons.  Powered by steam and controlled by advanced electronics, they drive a heavy piston (the “hammer”) against a second piston (the “anvil”) that is inserted in the side of the sphere.  On impact, the energy from the hammer is transferred quickly through the anvil and into the molten lead-lithium.

Full scale acoustic drivers have been constructed to demonstrate that they can achieve the required impact velocity (energy) and impact timing control.

 

Key Subsystem: Vortex CompressionVortex Collapse

At the core of General Fusion’s system, molten lead-lithium is pumped in a 3 metre diameter sphere to form a smooth cylindrical vortex.  This vortex is used to confine and compress the plasma.

A 1 metre diameter mini-sphere with 14 full-scale acoustic drivers has been constructed to test liquid metal vortex formation and compression.

 

Where We're Going

Full Scale, Net Gain Prototype

In the next phase of development, General Fusion will be constructing a full scale prototype system.  The prototype will be designed for single pulse testing, demonstrating full net energy gain on each pulse, a world first.

  • Case for Fusion
  • How it Works
  • Advantages
  • Where We Are
  • Where We’re Going
 
Nuclear fusion is the mechanism that fuels the sun, the solar system’s largest fusion energy source. It involves fusing small atoms together, and occurs when two light nuclei collide to form a heavier nucleus. The most practical fusion reaction uses isotopes of hydrogen named “deuterium” and “tritium”. Deuterium can be extracted from seawater and tritium can be derived from lithium resulting in a ubiquitous source of fuel and a nearly endless supply of clean energy.

Fusion Science

The Sun’s Power on Earth

Fusion occurs when atoms (normally hydrogen isotopes) are heated to very high temperatures, allowing them to collide and fuse.  In the sun, gravity creates those conditions but here on earth, the challenge for fusion science is to create the conditions for fusion using magnetic fields and inertia.

Fusion energy technology is being pursued across a very wide range of conditions. At very low density, Magnetic Confinement Fusion attempts to confine plasma at fusion temperatures for long periods of time (minutes) using very strong magnetic fields. At one trillion times higher density, Inertial Confinement Fusion attempts to compress fuel to fusion conditions for a nanosecond. In the middle, Magnetized Target Fusion (MTF) uses some magnetic confinement and some compression to achieve fusion conditions for a few microseconds, at intermediate densities.

Magnetized Target Fusion

 

General Fusion’s Approach

Magnetized target fusion (MTF) is a hybrid between magnetic fusion and inertial confinement fusion.  In MTF, a compact toroid, or donut-shaped magnetized plasma, is compressed mechanically by an imploding conductive shell, heating the plasma to fusion conditions.

MTF's advantages stem from its hybrid nature. MTF uses some magnetic field to confine the plasma, allowing for slower compression using mechanical systems. Magnetic fields in MTF are short-lived, avoiding complex plasma sustainment technologies.

By comparison, Inertial Confinement's fast compression requires high power lasers. Magnetic Confinement's long plasma life requires massive superconducting magnets, particle beams, and exotic materials.

LINUS – The Original MTF Power PlantLINUS

LINUS was the first full power plant concept based on Magnetized Target Fusion.  Developed in the 1970s at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory near Washington, DC, LINUS included many of the features General Fusion has leveraged in its own approach, such as thick liquid metal walls and a compressed gas driver.  Due to the plasma and electronics technology available at the time, the LINUS design proved impossible to build.

 
 

Commercialization Challenges: Magnetic Confinement Fusion systems will be very large and use expensive, exotic technologies for plasma confinement. New materials need to be invented to withstand the harsh plasma environment, and heat extraction and tritium breeding will be very difficult.

In contrast to tokamaks, General Fusion’s Magnetized Target Fusion power plants are expected to be 10 times smaller, and use a thick liquid metal “blanket” instead of solid walls around the fusion reaction. Since a continuously circulating liquid metal like this cannot be destroyed, can breed tritium, and can absorb the heat from the fusion reaction, it provides an elegant and practical solution to the challenges facing Magnetic Confinement Fusion.

Magnetic Confinement Fusion

 
 

All Confinement, Low Density

Magnetic fusion works on the principle that plasmas can be confined by magnetic fields. Magnetic fusion machines, called “tokamaks”, trap plasma in a toroidal cavity surrounded by strong external electromagnets. Invented in the 1950s, tokamaks are the most-researched fusion systems.

T-1: The Original Tokamak

The most successful Magnetic Confinement Fusion approach, called a “tokamak”, was invented by Soviet physicists in the 1950s at the Kurchatov Institute in Moscow.  The T-1 tokamak, pictured here, was the first built.  Later versions improved on the design and in 1968, the T-3 tokamak achieved an important breakthrough in confinement quality which spurred major tokamak construction and research programs around the world.

 

Joint European Torus (JET)

The Joint European Torus (or “JET”) is located at the Culham Center for Fusion Technology in the UK.  In 1997, JET achieved a fusion power record, producing 16 MW or 70% of the energy required to heat the plasma.  This marked a 100,000 fold improvement in fusion power from the results achieved by the Soviet T-3 tokamak in 1968 and illlustrated the progress made by fusion researchers in a few decades.

 

ITER

The world’s largest tokamak will be ITER, currently under construction by a consortium of USA, Russia, Japan, China, India, South Korea, and the European Union.
The ITER project was started in 1988. Construction is now underway in France with operation expected to begin in 2023 and net energy around 2030.  A prototype power plant, called DEMO, is planned following the ITER project.

 

Commercialization Challenges: Inertial Confinement Fusion systems will need major advances in laser efficiency, a 1,000-fold reduction in target cost, optics that don't degrade, and new materials to withstand the harsh environment facing the plasma.

Similar to Inertial Confinement Fusion (ICF), General Fusion's system is a pulsed approach. The key difference is that General Fusion's compressed gas driver uses current industrial technologies - at much lower cost. Where ICF consumes expensive solid targets, often made of gold, General Fusion's system uses plasma targets made entirely of fusion fuel meaning there are no consumables. And, by using a liquid metal, General Fusion avoids ICF's materials challenges.

Inertial Confinement Fusion

 

All Compression, High Density

Inertial Confinement Fusion (ICF) uses intense lasers fired onto a small (approximately 1 cm) spherical shell containing a deuterium-tritium ice mixture, exploding the outside of the shell. The rest of the shell accelerates inwards, compressing and heating the fuel for a nanosecond burst of fusion.

National Ignition Facility (NIF)

The National Ignition Facility (NIF) at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the USA is the world’s largest Inertial Confinement Fusion system, and the world’s most powerful laser.  NIF is designed to primarily to support weapons-related research, but is also attempting to reach ignition using ICF for the first time.

 
  • Fusion Science
  • Magnetized Target Fusion
  • Magnetic Confinement
  • Inertial Confinement