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Fusion generates an energy revolution

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Fusion generates an energy revolution

In 2024, fusion technology will finally transition from basic research to commercial application. The reason will be the construction and completion of the first commercial fusion demonstrators. These next-generation facilities are smaller than fusion power plants. For example, a laser-based fusion demonstrator might use five to ten laser beams, while a commercial power plant might use several hundred. However, they have a crucial role: proving that fusion technology works on a small scale, paving the way for the construction of larger fusion power plants. In 2024, they will do just that: they will begin building devices that will finally achieve the elusive goal of gaining energy; in other words, produce more energy than the amount needed to start the fusion process. Reaching this milestone is a critical step in addressing growing global energy demand, as fusion energy has the potential to provide an abundant, carbon-free energy source.

In 2022, researchers from the National Ignition Facility (NIF) in California was the first to experimentally demonstrate that a fusion process could effectively produce a net gain of energy. This experiment used high-powered lasers to deposit energy into a small fuel target (a millimeter-sized capsule containing frozen deuterium and tritium), creating the conditions for fusion to occur. The lasers delivered 2.05 megajoules of energy to the target, resulting in a fusion energy output of 3.1 megajoules. This was a scientific experiment: unlike fusion demonstrators, the NIF is not designed to operate continuously as a power plant. However, as a result of this scientific breakthrough, nuclear fusion has attracted considerable research, political and investor attention in recent months.

National fusion strategies have been developed in the US, UK, Japan, Germany and other countries to advance research and testing of the technology. Currently, the United States and the United Kingdom are leading the race: the United States Department of Energy funds fusion research with an annual budget of approximately 1.4 billion dollars and encourages private companies to accelerate commercialization. Similarly, the United Kingdom encourages public-private partnership by creating a merger group with universities and companies that combine their expertise. High-profile investors recognize the opportunity in fusion technology, with more than $5 billion of private capital flowing into fusion companies in the past two years.

The initiatives are bearing fruit: several fusion companies around the world, including Commonwealth Fusion Systems, Helion Energy and General Fusion, have announced plans to begin building facilities in 2024 to demonstrate their technological approach. According to the latest report of the Fusion Industry Association, more than half of all fusion companies believe that fusion energy will reach the public power grid during the 2030s. In May 2023, Microsoft signed a power purchase agreement with Helion Energy to secure a supply of fusion-generated electricity by 2028. In August 2023, Marvel Fusion (a fusion energy company I co-founded) announced a partnership with Colorado State University worth $150 million. , the largest public-private partnership to date, with the goal of building the only laser facility adapted to a commercial laser-based fusion technology and the most powerful short-pulse laser system in the world. With these advances and commitments in place, the year 2024 will demonstrate that fusion is no longer a distant dream but an achievable future of clean, sustainable energy.

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