Now it looks like MIT can beat them.
The SPARC of an idea
Across the country from legendary Skunk Works, which is working on the LockMart version of the reactor, scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Plasma Science and Fusion Center are working on a compact fusion reactor of their own, reports Le New York Times. Over the next three to four years, working with a company that came out of MIT in 2017 to commercialize the idea, “Commonwealth Fusion Systems LLC,” MIT hopes to build a “SPARC” test reactor to prove its concept.
MIT and CFS intend to use “yttrium barium copper oxide (YBCO) high temperature superconducting magnet technology” to form a magnetic field to contain a reaction in which the deuterium and tritium (the two isotopes of hydrogen) will be forced to fuse under high pressure and temperatures of “tens of millions of degrees”. The whole donut-shaped reactor should be “about the size of a tennis court,” says Bob Mumgaard, CEO of CFS. But if it performs as promised, the reactor should produce about 10 times as much energy as needed to ignite and sustain the fusion reaction within it, paving the way, CFS says, to “carbon-free, safe fusion power.” , unlimited ”.
At this point, MIT and CFS will begin to build a full-scale “ARC” power plant – which means “affordable, rugged, compact” – possibly as early as 2025.
A better nuclear future?
MIT and CFS expect their prototype ARC reactor to produce around 270 megawatts, or about a quarter of the power of a standard fission reaction nuclear power plant, and enough to power 100,000 homes.
Similar in concept to the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) currently under construction in southern France (with an expected commissioning date of 2035), MIT and CFS say their reactor will cost only a fraction of the cost. ITER expected price of $ 22 billion. If they’re right, it would also make the ARC cheaper to build than existing fission nuclear power plants, which can cost $ 23 billion and more.
In addition, operating costs after construction are expected to be significantly lower, as a fusion reactor will not need expensive uranium to fuel it, but rather use hydrogen as a fuel source. He won’t need it either many fuel. Indeed, the CFS claims that “one glass of water will provide enough fusion fuel for a person’s life” – without the radioactive waste of a traditional nuclear reactor.
What this means for investors
Now, what are the odds that MIT and CFS will succeed in their project?
Well, if funding is any indication of the odds of success (it might do not be, but I’d say that’s at least a measure of investor confidence), MIT and its partner are off to a good start. According to data collected by S&P Global Market Intelligence, in just three years, Commonwealth Fusion Systems has already attracted nearly $ 250 million in private funding from investors, including private equity firms and the Italian money market giant. energy. eni (NYSE: E).
That’s more than double the money TAE Technologies, a private company based in California, another startup doing fusion research, would have raised, and nearly five times what First Light Fusion, based in USA. UK, affiliated with the University of Oxford, raised.
That being said, it’s far less than the market cap of $ 106 billion supporting Lockheed Martin’s efforts. Considering how little progress LockMart seems to have made over the past six years, I would advise investors not to take even MIT’s success for granted. The CFS could still fail in its efforts.
That being said, the amount of private money spent on this business is intriguing. As MIT and CFS continue to move forward on building their test reactor, an IPO might not be out of the question to accelerate their efforts. As one of the leaders in this new field of energy research, Commonwealth Fusion Systems is an IPO prospect that I would like to keep on my toes.