Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS), a startup company spun out of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), is making significant progress in the development of fusion energy. CFS is utilizing high-temperature superconducting (HTS) tape to create powerful electromagnets for its tokamak design, which is smaller and more cost-effective compared to traditional approaches. The company aims to demonstrate positive energy gain, where more energy is produced than consumed, by the end of the decade.
The use of HTS tape allows CFS to build compact tokamaks that could revolutionize the fusion energy field. These smaller machines have the potential to be constructed faster and at a lower cost compared to the massive tokamaks being built, such as the Iter fusion experiment in France, which has a price tag of $22 billion.
CFS has already tested its first magnet, which demonstrated a magnetic field 400,000 times stronger than Earth’s magnetic field. The company has stockpiled about a third of the 10,000 kilometers of HTS tape required for its Sparc reactor. However, the challenge lies in scaling up production and reducing costs to meet the growing demand for HTS tape.
While CFS is focused on achieving an energy gain factor of 10 or more with its Sparc reactor, the company is also working on its successor, Arc, which aims to be the world’s first fusion power plant. The engineering and materials science challenges of extracting heat from the device and converting it into electricity remain significant hurdles.
Despite the challenges, the fusion energy industry is gaining momentum, with private companies raising over $5 billion in funding since 2021. The industry is optimistic about the potential of fusion power, with 93% of professionals surveyed believing that fusion power will begin supplying electricity to the grid by the 2030s.
The progress made by CFS and other fusion energy projects offers hope for a future of carbon-free baseload electricity, providing a solution to the climate crisis. With continued advancements in technology and increased collaboration between the private sector and government institutions, fusion power may become a reality sooner than expected.