Investment in private fusion companies has more than doubled in the past year and eight new companies have been founded, bringing the total to around 33.
Alongside this, new technology companies such as Kyoto Fusioneering in Japan are stepping up to support power plant development.
A survey of private fusion energy companies launched today states that fusion companies declared more than $4.8bn of funding, up by 139% on last year. For the first time, private investment into fusion energy has outstripped government funding.
The Global Fusion Industry in 2022 is the second annual survey from the Fusion Industry Association (FIA), this year supported by Trinomics as part of a European Commission-funded study on fusion energy development worldwide. The survery aims to build a directory of fusion energy businesses and provide a periodic update on the sector. This year, 33 private companies developing commercial fusion took part – up from 23 last year – including all of the industry’s most advanced players.
Eight new fusion companies have been founded since the last report, a sign of the industry’s rapid growth and investor confidence. Six companies have now each raised over $200m in total, with notable investments in the last year including over $1.8 billion for Commonwealth Fusion Systems and $500m for Helion Energy, allowing them to develop pilot plants to demonstrate fusion electricity.
The huge step up in investment, coupled with increasing government support for fusion in the U.K. and the U.S., is increasing confidence within the fusion industry.
The U.K. has included fusion in their recent Energy Security Bill and will be the first country in the world to legislate on the framework by which to regulate it. The U.S. has committed to funding public-private partnerships in line with their Bold Decadal Vision set out in March this year.
Andrew Holland, Chief Executive Officer of the Fusion Industry Association, states in the report, “We must not see a ‘competition’ between publicly funded and privately funded fusion approaches; instead, we must build real partnerships. As the private sector builds the power plants, governments will need to build the infrastructure and train the workforce that enable the fusion energy revolution.”
These moves are pushing up the confidence around the timescales in which fusion power will become a reality. More than 93% of the survey respondents—all people working in private fusion companies—now believe that fusion power will first be on the grid by the 2030s, up from 83% last year. Moreover, 84% think a fusion plant will demonstrate a low enough cost and high enough efficiency to be considered commercially viable in the same timeframe.
The wider industry is stepping up to support these ambitions. Last week, Kyoto Fusioneering, a technology start-up founded in 2019 and focused on developing advanced technologies for commercial fusion reactors, announced the construction of an integrated testing facility for fusion power plant equipment, which aims to demonstrate electricity generation using fusion relevant technologies in 2024.
The new facility, named UNITY: Unique Integrated Testing Facility, will test both the heat extraction and fuel cycle systems required for fusion power plants in a single facility.
Kyoto Fusioneering is the first entity (private company or government laboratory) in the world to test these reactor technologies for fusion as an integrated system. It’s an important step because private fusion companies all aim to demonstrate scientific feasibility in the 2020s, that is to get more energy out of their fusion reactions than it takes to get them going (energy gain). To take the next step of building a pilot plant will require some new and largely untested technologies.
For example, Richard Pearson, Chief Innovator & U.K. Director of Kyoto Fusioneering, said: “Breeding blankets, which are a critical path technology for commercial reactors, both for the fuel cycle and power generation, have never been fabricated for testing at even subsystem level in anything close to a relevant environment. We will be doing that—and more—on UNITY.”
UNITY will be the leading platform for testing power generation systems for private fusion companies, allowing these companies to focus their resources on fusion power core development.
Alongside the high growth in the private fusion sector, construction of the largest fusion experimental device in the world, ITER, is well underway in the South of France. (See pictures of construction progress on their website.) This project, a worldwide collaborative effort, is the focus of the majority of the publicly-funded research effort globally has been a great stimulus to the fusion supply chain as well as growing the fusion knowledge base.
Private companies are now building on this base but hoping to push ahead faster in line with the urgency with which the world needs long-term clean energy.
The new FIA survey shows that electricity generation remains the primary market for 85% of fusion players, followed by off grid energy or hydrogen and clean fuels (each named by 27% of respondents), highlighting the potential of fusion to produce not just electricity to the grid but as a way to enable deep decarbonization across the global economy.
“The results of this report show that fusion is on a pathway towards commercial relevance, at a time when the world desperately needs new clean energy options,” comments Andrew Holland.
“With investment accelerating, it is increasingly likely that commercial fusion will become a reality within the next two decades, providing the basis for prosperity, safety, and security for many years to come.”