Dhe advances in nuclear fusion made at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in the United States have also electrified Europe. “The US breakthrough in nuclear fusion contains a message for us: We need more joy in inventing and getting involved than in banning and getting out,” said Federal Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP). The “future of energy” must also be “made in the EU”.
However, the standards are once again set by the dynamism in the USA. Nuclear fusion is a top priority there. President Joe Biden placed the technology at the center of a summit of researchers, entrepreneurs, officials and politicians at the White House in mid-March this year. The government shares the perception of many scientists and business representatives that nuclear fusion could be on the verge of a breakthrough after many decades.
“When the history books on fusion technology are written, the last 12 months will be viewed as a turning point, when it became clear that fusion technology will move away from the laboratory and into the market,” said Fusion’s 2022 annual report, released in July Industry Association.
Unlike nuclear fission, nuclear fusion is all about fusing the nuclei of one substance into the nucleus of another. Hydrogen becomes helium. A process that only occurs in nature in stars like the sun. That’s why people like to talk about solar fire when it comes to nuclear fusion. This type of nuclear energy is considered clean, climate-neutral and virtually inexhaustible.
Million dollar poker of the billionaires
Accordingly, America has big plans: Within the next ten years, several fusion pilot power plants of different sizes and technologies are to be built across the country. The conditions are good. For one thing, science is making great strides, and the government is pumping a lot of money into research. Congress recently approved $713 million for research and construction, including $50 million for a public-private partnership. The climate law Inflation Reduction Act brings another rain of hundreds of millions for fusion projects.
On the other hand, the private sector is flourishing in the United States – and it is putting the pressure on. The German physics professor, laser researcher and founder of the German-American fusion start-up Focused Energy, Markus Roth, says: “In public research you have a lot of time and little money, in industry you have a lot of money but little time.” With their pragmatic approach, the Americans are at the forefront when it comes to converting the results of basic research into practical applications, including in nuclear fusion.
Of the 33 companies in the world working to develop viable nuclear fusion technologies, 21 are based in the United States. Self-respecting tech billionaires are investing in a nuclear fusion startup. Whether Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Peter Thiel, John Doerr, George Soros, Dustin Moskovitz (Facebook) or Reid Hoffman (Linkedin) – everyone is there. Global merger companies raised $4.74 billion in capital from private investors this year.
The largest companies from the merger scene are therefore sitting on quite comfortable capital cushions. Commonwealth Fusion, founded in 2018 around the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was able to collect more than 2 billion dollars thanks to Gates, Doerr and Salesforce founder Marc Benioff. Thiel and Moskovitz-backed Helion secured $2.2 billion.
In addition to Google and Chevron, the Japanese Sumitomo Corp also participated in the financing of the American start-up TAE Technologies in the summer. It plans to manufacture fusion reactors on an industrial scale and have them connected to power early in the next decade. Google has been involved with the company since 2014, equipping it with computing technology and artificial intelligence systems.