Fusion trickle: $62T nuclear fusion starts smallNovember 17, 2023
Early revenues from the emerging nuclear-fusion industry are on the horizon, as commercialisation advocates Dr Melanie Windridge and Chris Ajemian tell MarketOpen Insights tiny fusion facilities could help nations produce cancer treatments and facilitate medical testing – and power remote mines.
Occasionally, we encounter a new technology that people get excited about. Their eyes widen, their voice lowers, and their body language conveys a sense of wonder. Nuclear fusion is one of those opportunities.
Unlike the potentially dangerous nuclear fission reactions produced in traditional nuclear power plants, fusion offers a safe and clean energy source. This solution presents a chance for environmentally conscious Western markets to reduce their reliance on coal and adopt a cleaner energy alternative.
Fusion Energy Insight founder and CEO Dr Melanie Windridge says, “It’s not that hard to do fusion, i.e., to make fusion reactions.” The challenge is making and sustaining more power than is put in and containing the immense power generated.
However, recent technological advancements in magnets, superconductors, and the scarcity of tritium are essential to making a fusion reaction capturing the attention of private investors, which include Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos.
Windridge advocates for the commercial use of fusion energy, which is currently used in many medical and mining applications. The UK-based physicist admits that while fusion reactors supplying limitless free energy to the planet may still be a while away, a viable commercial application exists.
“In certain medical and mining applications, there is not the necessity to extract more power than what is put in,” Windridge says.
“In medicine, fusion can, therefore, be used in cancer treatments and to diagnose certain conditions.”
And that is precisely what is happening right now.
Tiny nuclear fusion reactors developed by Astral Systems could soon produce radioisotopes and diagnostics. Other companies working on medical technology fusion development include SHINE Technologies and First Light Fusion. Radiotracers for diagnostics are another potential application.
Meanwhile, Strong Atomics, climate technology researcher Daniel Slesinski, and Office of the Under Secretary for Science and Innovation Senior Advisor Scott Hsu have identified early markets for fusion, including remote mine sites.
Mining industry potential.
There is immediate scope for small nuclear fusion facilities to be a source of clean energy for mining operations and energy grids in countries with high energy costs, such as Singapore or Japan. She suggests that fusion technology could be instrumental in remote mining locations where it is difficult and expensive to transport large quantities of coal to run power plants. Instead, a small truck of fusion fuel could be delivered to the site, enough to power the operation for up to 40 years.
Small fusion plants can generate weather-independent electricity and decrease input costs associated with coal transportation. This technology can also impact feasibility studies for Australian mining projects.
“By embracing fusion technology, we could reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and increase the availability of clean and sustainable energy sources,” Windridge adds.
An international priority
Across the globe, the UK, US, Japanese and German governments all have fusion strategies and are putting in place public-private partnerships to make fusion happen.
The national efforts have varying time horizons, with the US hoping to see a fusion pilot plant by the 2040s.
In the US, the city of Seattle in Washington state, home to Microsoft and Amazon’s headquarters, is emerging as a nuclear fusion centre, being dubbed Fusiontown, USA.
The city hosted the CleanTech Alliance star attraction Seattle Fusion Week 2023 a month ago, with help from alliance board member fusion-energy commercialisation expert Chris Ajemian.
The Seattle-based Chris Ajemian Consulting principal tells MarketOpen that fusion technology shows promise for medical researchers wanting to tackle some of the world’s biggest health problems.
“Fusion offers a new source of medical isotopes,” the Seattle Fusion Week introductory speaker confirms. “But its promise as a new form of carbon-free energy presents perhaps the best option for reversing climate change and ending energy scarcity.”
UK-based Dr Windridge views fusion as a global mission: “The world needs fusion energy for a long-term sustainable future.”
In Europe, a large-scale fusion facility known as ITER is being built in southern France. The nuclear fusion reactor is a collaborative effort of the international nuclear fusion research and engineering megaproject. It is funded by project members China, the European Union, the US, Japan, Korea, India and Russia. Australia is helping out with technological input for the facility.
Nuclear fusion technology has the potential to revolutionize the energy industry, but it requires significant funding to bring it to the pilot plant stage. The challenge is to secure enough funding to build these pilot plants, which is estimated to require hundreds of millions of dollars for the demonstration parts and billions of dollars to build the first-of-a-kind power plants.
If funded, the nuclear fusion market could be worth $62 trillion in the future, with the potential to be plugged into electricity grids by 2030. Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS) is building smaller, lower-cost fusion systems and sees its fusion trajectory as the “surest path to limitless, clean fusion energy.”
The US, UK, and Australia are prioritizing alternative energy sources such as tiny fusion facilities. In April 2023, the US and UK made a joint statement committing to accelerating fusion energy, with the safe-energy-option nuclear fusion being regulated differently to fission. This is a positive sign for private investors who want to invest in the trillions of dollars of fusion revenues expected to flow into investment markets across the globe in the coming decades.
Dr Melanie Windridge and Amolika Bansal’s new podcast, The Fusion Frontier: Investing In Tomorrow’s Energy Future for Fusion Energy Investors, debuts on Monday, November 27, 2023. The next FusionXInvest investment conference will be held in Boston, Massachusetts, on February 21-22, 2024, and includes a visit to the Bill Gates-backed fusion company Commonwealth Fusion Systems.
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