B.C. fusion company awarded sustainable development grant

By Maura Forrest

March 24, 2016

A B.C.-based fusion energy company has received a $12.8-million grant from Sustainable Technology Development Canada, the largest grant the foundation has awarded to a B.C. company in 2016.

Established in 2002, Burnaby-based General Fusion is trying to build a full-scale fusion energy demonstration system, using a technique it calls magnetized target fusion technology.

This is the second major grant the company has received from STDC. The first was a $13.9-million grant in 2009.

“The dedicated team at STDC are champions for clean tech and its importance to the diversification of our economy,” said CEO Nathan Gilliland in a news release. “It’s also important to realize that STDC’s clean energy projects will help Canada meet its commitment to reducing greenhouse gases.”

Nuclear fusion is a process by which hydrogen atoms are made to collide and fuse at high speeds, which causes them to release energy. It has long been considered a holy grail of energy research, as it would be a nearly limitless source of clean energy.

But a breakthrough has always seemed to be a few decades away, partly because the reaction requires temperatures of more than 100 million degrees Celsius.

Still, General Fusion claims it’s developing “the fastest, most practical, and lowest cost path to commercial fusion power.”

According to Science News, the company’s technique involves injecting “magnetized rings of plasma into a liquid metal vortex that is squeezed by pistons.”

General Fusion says it has raised more than $100 million from global investors since its establishment. Those investors include Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

But some are skeptical of unconventional approaches to fusion power like General Fusion’s.

“For the most part, these ideas are recycled from the glory days of the 1980s, and one by one, the Department of Energy stopped funding those concepts,” Edward Morse, a nuclear engineer at the University of California, Berkeley, told Science News. “It’s fortunate that the investors who are quoted in these reports are very rich people. They may not miss the money.”

But General Fusion is optimistic, saying it would licence the technology to the power industry if it comes time to commercialize.

“If we ever succeed, we will partner with the GEs of this world,” Michel Laberge, founder of General Fusion, told Science News.

According to the news release, the latest $12.8-million grant from STDC is part of a $206-million package designed to help 36 Canadian clean tech projects “bridge the gap between research and commercialization.”




Photo Credit: Canadian Nuclear Laboratories