the dream of a unlimited clean energy is getting closer after the advances announced by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Although it is still early days, many investors have already flocked to Investigate where to invest in this potential sector for the long term according to Jennifer Hiller y William Boston en The Wall Street Journal.
Michl Binderbauer is CEO of a Southern California company called TAE Technologies that aims to create nearly unlimited energy through nuclear fusion.a stellar target that at times seemed futuristic to some potential investors.
All that changed this week.
“We called someone and got a meeting right away. Before some say this is crazy, no, it’s not for me,” Binderbauer said. The company has raised about $1.2 billion in previous yearsand said he received a series of inquiries from new investors this week.
The game-changing event for the Binderbauer company and the rest of the fusion industry was a long-awaited physics breakthrough announced this week by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
A through a controlled fusion reactionthe laboratory for the first time on December 5 achieved a net gain, which means that it produced more energy than was put intothe Energy Department said Tuesday. The researchers of the National Ignition Facility billionaire from the lab have been studying nuclear fusion for over a decade, using lasers to create conditions that cause hydrogen atoms to fuse together and release vast amounts of free carbon energy.
“It seems that a new era has begun, the time of the merger of the Wright brothers,” he said. Heike Freund, COO of Marvel Fusion, a Munich-based start-up company hoping to develop commercially viable fusion power generation. Like the NIF project, Marvel is using lasers to create fusion.
Before this month’s breakthrough, lThe energy industry had been riding a wave of investment in clean, climate-focused technologyand merger-based companies now compete for a larger slice of that funding. The Fusion Industry Association, an industry group based in Washington, D.C.., said that fusion energy companies have raised more than 5 billion dollars in private fundsalmost double the amount of a year ago.
“We have a possible new emerging energy industry based on fusion,” he said. Dennis Whyte, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and founder of Commonwealth Fusion Systemsa fusion energy startup that last year raised $1.8 billion from investors including Bill Gates and Tiger Global Management.
The excitement surrounding the discovery is tempered by the reality that commercialization of the process is years, if not decades, away. Scientists would have to master and refine complex processes and systems before you can go to build a power generating reactor.
“It will be a while before we see this commercialized,” said the Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm during a press conference Tuesday in Washington, DC
Kim Budil, director of the Lawrence Livermore National LaboratoryHe said it could take decades to commercialize fusion, but that the achievement was a necessary first step proving that fusion could power a power plant.
“This is a one time power up pod. And to do commercial fusion power, you have to do a lot of things,” Budil said.
“For example, the National Ignition Facility primarily uses laser technology from the 1980s, which must be modernized”, added Budil. “Meanwhile, the process to build the target that ignites the fuel capsule is complex and time consuming and will need to be simplified to be easily repeatable and produce many fusion ignition events per minute.”
Adam Stein, director of nuclear power and innovation at the Breakthrough Institutea California-based research center, compared the successful experiment to the first photovoltaic cell to generate electricity.
“There were hundreds of them before that didn’t work,” Stein said. “But at some point, the first one that worked crossed that threshold, and it was still several steps away from a commercial solar power plant.”
How does nuclear fusion work?
Nuclear fusion occurs when two light atomic nuclei fuse to form a single heavier one. that process releases enormous amounts of energy, with zero carbon emissions and limited radioactivity. Fusion reactions take place in a state of matter called plasma, a hot charged gas made of freely moving ions and electrons, requiring temperatures above 100 million degrees Celsius to allow nuclei to overcome their mutual electrical repulsion and collide.
Companies are looking at different designs for fusion reactors, but most rely on fusion that takes place in plasma confined by powerful magnets.
While the experiment at the national lab used lasers to create what’s called inertial confinementthe projects of magnetic confinement they are considered the most likely technology to commercialize first. They have not yet achieved a net gain, but have achieved more sustained high-temperature fusion reactions. The magnets could also have other commercial applications, which has attracted investors.
“It allows a constant production of heat, which is much easier to translate into the production of electricity in the future,” Stein stressed.
Tammy Ma, a plasma physicist who worked on the successful Livermore experimentsaid that the private companies have invested more in magnetic fusion and that, as a result, the inertial confinement is a bit further behind technologically.
Several big names are backing the merger investigation. The Alphabet y Chevron are among the early investors ofTAE, y Marvelbased in Munich, is part of a industrial consortium including Siemens Energy, laser manufacturer Trumpf and French technology company Thalesamong others.
Anika Stein, consultant and co-founder of German-American merger startup Focused Energy Inc., said that the achievement in NIF was “the event of the century” that completely changed the debate on fusion energy.
Europe has lagged behind the US in public funding for fusion research. Startups are also hampered in Europe by poor financing infrastructure and rules that make it more difficult to form companies than in the US.
But Stein, what is working with the EU to develop a program to help fund fusion research and developmentHe said the NIF demo has changed the investment landscape around the world.
“The question is no longer whether it is possible to create energy with fusion. The question has shifted to how we can make fusion so efficient that we can run a power plant with this technology,” Stein added.