MIT's Big Fusion Announcement

Nuclear fusion has long been a clean energy dream, yet for decades has remained stubbornly out of practical reach,  seemingly impervious to massive research efforts. Amid the steady and substantial performance and cost improvements in wind, solar, and storage, fusion has practically fallen off the clean energy radar.  At last weekend's 2-day MIT Energy Conference, among all the panels and Q&As, I heard fusion raised just once -- in an audience question -- and you almost could hear the crowd's collective eyeroll.

Today's announcement of a major new MIT collaboration on fusion should put it firmly back into our dreams, and with luck, into our grid much sooner than we've dared hope. MIT VP of Research Maria Zuber says "This announcement is as much about a transformation of the energy market as about advances in the technology that drives it." 

Here's the opening:

MIT and newly formed company launch novel approach to fusion power
Goal is for research to produce a working pilot plant within 15 years.
David Chandler | MIT News Office  | March 9, 2018

Progress toward the long-sought dream of fusion power — potentially an inexhaustible and zero-carbon source of energy — could be about to take a dramatic leap forward.

Development of this carbon-free, combustion-free source of energy is now on a faster track toward realization, thanks to a collaboration between MIT and a new private company, Commonwealth Fusion Systems. CFS will join with MIT to carry out rapid, staged research leading to a new generation of fusion experiments and power plants based on advances in high-temperature superconductors — work made possible by decades of federal government funding for basic research.

CFS is announcing today that it has attracted an investment of $50 million in support of this effort from the Italian energy company Eni. In addition, CFS continues to seek the support of additional investors. CFS will fund fusion research at MIT as part of this collaboration, with an ultimate goal of rapidly commercializing fusion energy and establishing a new industry.

“This is an important historical moment: Advances in superconducting magnets have put fusion energy potentially within reach, offering the prospect of a safe, carbon-free energy future,” says MIT President L. Rafael Reif. “As humanity confronts the rising risks of climate disruption, I am thrilled that MIT is joining with industrial allies, both longstanding and new, to run full-speed toward this transformative vision for our shared future on Earth.”

“Everyone agrees on the eventual impact and the commercial potential of fusion power, but then the question is: How do you get there?” adds Commonwealth Fusion Systems CEO Robert Mumgaard (MIT SM ’15, PhD ’15). “We get there by leveraging the science that’s already developed, collaborating with the right partners, and tackling the problems step by step.”...

For more info: the complete news release, Maria Zuber's op-ed in the Boston Globe,  a detailed "3 Questions" with MIT professor Zach Hartwig, and coverage by The Guardian.

[Image: Visualization by Ken Filar, MIT PSFC research affiliate, of the proposed SPARC tokamak experiment. Using high-field magnets built with newly available high-temperature superconductors, this experiment would be the first controlled fusion plasma to produce net energy output.]