Vancouver-based startup General Fusion has been running around claiming they can build a nuclear fusion reactor in the next 10 years for under a billion dollars. And some anonymous futurists just gave them 9 million dollars for their troubles.
Seeing that current nuclear fusion projects are expected to cost around 14 billion dollars (ITER project) and take 20 years to complete, General Fusion’s reactor would indeed come at a bargain price. But how can they make this so cheap, and what makes them so confident they’ll succeed?
Well currently, the aforementioned ITER project is attempting to use astronomically expensive, superconducting tokamak magnets to keep superheated plasma in its place for a fusion reaction, while the National Ignition Facility is trying to use lasers to compress plasma into a reaction.
General Fusions wants to create a reaction using a mechanical process where 220 pneumatic pistons push acoustic waves through a sphere filled with liquid lithium and lead into a plasma ring in the centre. With 220 of these waves coming in at 100 meters per second, scientists hope that it will compress the plasma into a fusion reaction. And since the majority of the tech consists of long-established machinery, costs will be low.
If successful, General Fusion believes they can ultimately create a fusion reactor rated at 100 megawatts, that could potentially power a grid for 500 million dollars. The most recent contribution of 9 million dollars for General Fusion brings the total funding to 14 million, but they’ll need 37 million more over five years to build a working prototype. Um, can we pass a collection plate around? [MIT Tech Review and Xconomy]