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The Place of Fusion in the Growing Clean Energy Puzzle

The commercial nuclear fusion, which was once a far-fetched concept left to science fiction as well as DeLorean-centered time machines generated by Hollywood, is fast approaching scientific fact, with the latest wave of investment flooding the field on the promise of abundant, zero-emissions energy. World leaders and campaigners are asking businesses to shift away from the fossil fuels and toward renewable energy sources, primarily wind and solar, to help reduce emissions and prevent climate change.

Traditional nuclear power, which splits uranium atoms through fission, has been there for decades. Although it produces little emissions, it is hampered by the decay of radioactive elements produced when uranium atoms are torn apart, resulting in a dangerous radioactive waste. Atoms are merged or fused together to produce a bigger atom via nuclear fusion, which is the energy source in the stars and sun. There is no long-lived radioactive waste produced.

Oil and gas firms, which have been prominent participants in the energy revolution, have begun to see the promise of fusion in the future and are investing in a variety of trial projects.  Eni, the Italian energy company, recently announced that it had contributed to a $1.8 billion funding round for the CFS (Commonwealth Fusion System), which is a company founded by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to generate energy by combining atoms utilizing HTS (high-temperature superconducting) magnet technology. Since its inception in 2018, CFS has raised over $2 billion in the capital. Bill Gates and Google are among the company’s other investors.

“The world is ready to make significant investments in the commercial fusion as a critical component of the global energy transition,” stated CFS CEO Bob Mumgaard. “As we explore for large-scale solutions to decarbonize, this diversified group of investors spans a range of capital from energy and technology businesses to hedge funds, venture capitalists, and university endowments that belief in the impact fusion will have.”

Eni was not the only oil corporation with a stake in CFS. Equinor, a Norwegian company, has added CFS to its own zero-carbon portfolio, which already comprises offshore wind and solar.

“Fusion energy has the capacity to be a game-changer in terms of supplying sustainable energy on a large scale,” said Carri Lockhart, Equinor’s executive vice president of technology, digital, and innovation. “We want to be a part of the CFS adventure to develop the technology and market potential because the technology is promising.  Our investment in the CFS fundraiser is our most significant venture investment to date.”

Equinor made the investment through its Equinor Ventures (EV) unit, which has the mandate to invest $750 million in emerging technologies and companies over the next five years. In 2020, EV initiated its very first investment in CFS, a US-based firm, and its overall investment in CFS accounts for around 10 percent of the $750-million directive.

CFS confirmed the successful trial of the globe’s strongest HTS fusion magnet in September 2021. The latest round of funding will go toward building, commissioning, and operating SPARC, the world’s first commercially viable net energy fusion machine.

With success, the business will be able to start work on ARC, the very first commercial power plant, that will include creating support technologies, progressing the design, locating the site, and gathering the customers and partners for the potential of fusion power. The SPARC will be completed by 2025, accelerating progress toward the ARC’s completion in the early 2030s.

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