Feds pledge $50 million to for-profit nuclear fusion companies

A photo shows the coil facility for making the polar field coils, which will be part of a magnetic system that will contribute to plasma confinement and modeling during the launch phase of the particle fusion machine assembly “Tokamak” of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) in Saint-Paul-les-Durance, southeastern France, on July 28, 2020. – Thirty-five countries are collaborating on the project. The ITER energy project aims to master energy production from hydrogen fusion, as at the center of the sun, a new source of carbon-free and pollution-free energy.

Clement Mahudeau | Afp | beautiful pictures

The US government is putting money behind private-sector nuclear fusion companies for the first time, and it’s a sign that momentum is building behind the clean energy “holy grail”.

At the Global Clean Energy Action Forum in Pittsburgh on Thursday, the Department of Energy officially announced $50 million will go to privately incorporated companies in a public-private partnership.

Andrew Holland, CEO of Combined Industry Associationa trade industry group, told CNBC.

“If the U.S. government puts all its weight into accelerating fusion energy into the grid, it could bring a new, transformative energy source to America,” Holland told CNBC.

Conventional nuclear reactors are based on nuclear fission, where a neutron hits a large atom and splits it apart, releasing energy in the process. Nuclear fusion is when two heavier atoms collide to form a heavier atom, and is how stars are powered. It is often considered the “holy grail” of clean energy because it provides virtually unlimited energy, emits no greenhouse gases, and produces no long-term nuclear waste. But it has proven very difficult to safely replicate the process on earth in a way that can be scaled up and commercialized.

The US government has been putting federal money into fusion research since the 1950s and today invests about $700 million a year. Holland told CNBC. But that money is mainly for national laboratories and universities and for the main international research project in France, ITER, but the announced $50 million for private fusion companies “is first significant U.S. government investment in private-sector fusion energy companies,” Holland told CNBC.

“This is not pure science. This is a commercial development and implementation program,” Holland told CNBC.

The $50 million grant helps companies prepare blueprints, but not enough money to finance the construction of entire fusion power plants, which would cost much more.

The private sector aggregate industry has attracted nearly $5 billion in venture capital and other funding according to the Consolidated Industry Association.

Notable recent increases include a $1.8 billion increase from Commonwealth Unified Systema byproduct of Massachusetts Institute of Technology research, from a wide range of successful investors including Bill Gates, John Doerr, Sales force Co-CEO Marc Benioff’s Time Ventures, and Google, to name a few. Another privately held general company, Helionannounced a $500 million raise led by Sam Altman, insider of Silicon Valley and which includes another $1.7 billion in funding potential depending on Helion meeting specific funding goals.

While the program is currently funded by $50 million over the next 18 months, Congress has authorized up to $415 million in future budgets. The first public-private funding scheme authorized in Energy Act of 2020.

The race is on to recreate the power of the sun with fusion energy

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