Clean energy has become a hot topic with a number of groups and companies looking to develop viable solutions. General Fusion, whose goal is a world with clean, limitless energy, is among them. He serves as the Chairman of the company’s board of directors and joined the ETF Think Tank to discuss the possibilities of fusion as an energy solution.
De Boer explains that his company’s purpose is to deliver commercially available fusion power. General Fusion is one of about 50-100 private fusion companies. A lot of the work done up to this point has been strictly scientific projects attempting to advance the technology, but his company has already built a fusion demonstration plant. About $300 million in seed funding has already been made and the company has up to around 200 employees. General Fusion is working on having a power plant add electricity to the grid by the first part of the 2030s.
The potential in clean energy is enormous, but the target of achieving net zero emissions by 2050 is very ambitious. Looking at energy consumption today, de Boer says that the world will need to decarbonize at the rate of one megaton of oil per day every day between now and 2050. It’s a huge goal and one that will likely need to be revised as time goes on.
Perhaps the biggest challenge is achieving commercial scale. During the oil crisis of the 1970s, the search for alternative energies really kicked off, but investment slowed once oil prices came back down. There are structural challenges, but the need for this is clear. Companies are building off a public set of knowledge. 20 years ago, building designs were developed that weren’t viable at the time. Now, they’re viable, which provides a big opportunity.
December 5th was an important date for fusion energy. It was the first time that the amount of energy generated by a fusion reaction exceeded the energy that went into producing it. It validated scientific models that underlie the experiment. On a systems basis, it’s still far away from a net gain, but at an experimental level it was a very positive development. de Boer says he believes that it would have been bigger news if it didn’t happen. For the goal of turning this into a viable power plant and a repeatable process, there’s a long way to go and it’s very complex. To get it to a power plant-necessary output still requires much more work.
De Boer views the development of clean energy technology as the most important thing. If a competitor gets ahead of you, that’s a good thing because the technology is evolving, and the work being done should benefit everybody. There’s some helping out across companies to deal with issues like supply chains, but we’re all trying to accomplish the same goals. We’re just competing for investor dollars and talent.
Other key takeaways:
- The development of fusion technologies has been phenomenal, and activity is doubling roughly every 18 months. There are tens of billions of dollars being invested in this.
- The biggest supply chain problem in the nuclear engineering industry is people. In the UK, the average nuclear engineer is in his early 60s. The question is how can we track talent into this industry? The tide is very slowly changing.
- A lot of the clean energy discussion is aspirational including the thought that there aren’t enough materials or supplies. de Boer says he doesn’t think the same supply constraint exists on the fusion side. He says that fusion is probably the easiest energy to scale.
- de Boer says he is convinced that fusion will happen. It’d be nice if General Fusion were the first to accomplish it, but he wants to see it happen period because it’s so important.
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