What's the Latest?

A commercially-scaled fusion reactor could mean endless supplies of inexpensive energy--forever. That's a game changer if ever there was one. So in the style of Silicon Valley start ups, a group of engineers have successfully raised $150 million in venture capital to build a fusion reactor. Called Tri Alpha Energy, the group is developing a new technology that is smaller, simpler, and cheaper than the conventional fusion reactor known as "tokamak". Because the majority of US government funds earmarked for fusion research are already committed to a facility in France that is behind schedule and over budget, the task has fallen to Tri Alpha and about a dozen other companies attempting the same feat. 

What's the Big Idea?

Several substantial hurdles currently face both domestic fusion companies and the larger, government-sponsored effort in France: engineers have yet to prove that fusion reactors "can achieve the billion-kelvin temperatures needed to burn the exotic fuel it wants to use [particularly as reactors are scaled up to commercial size], and must demonstrate a practical way to convert the energy output into electricity." Even the most sophisticated fusion reactors are planning to rely on steam-powered electricity generators, which run at 30-40 percent efficiency. Still, Tri Alpha predicts it will create commercial energy within a decade--that's well ahead of the 30-50 years typically quoted for tokamaks. 

Read more at Nature

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