Tag Archives: fusion

CNA2016

Member Spotlight: General Fusion

In 2002, Dr. Michel Laberge founded General Fusion to develop energy sources through nuclear fusion. Named to the Global Clean Tech 100, General Fusion started off with four employees in 2009 and currently boasts over sixty staff. The CNA recently sat down with company VP Michael Delage at their headquarters in Burnaby, B.C., to talk about their goal to deliver fusion power.

GeneralFusion2TELL ME ABOUT FUSION SCIENCE.

Fusion is nature’s energy source, the process by which stars burn, including our sun. When you  heat up hydrogen to extremely high temperatures, the atoms collide and stick together, forming helium. This process releases a lot of energy. Fusion technology is about replicating conditions you would find on the sun, here on earth, in order to produce energy.

If you think about what our power plant would look like, we form this little bubble of superheated gas (called a plasma) wrapped in a magnetic field, in the middle of a big spherical tank of liquid metal.  The tank is surrounded by pneumatic hammers which hit the outside of the tank.  These hammers, firing simultaneously, set up a pressure wave in the liquid metal which travels to the middle of the tank where the bubble of plasma is.  The pressure wave can be focused thanks to the spherical shape, becoming very strong and crushing the bubble of plasma. This compression heats the plasma to fusion conditions and releases a lot of energy.

HOW COULD IT CHANGE THE WAY WE SEE ENERGY?

A fusion reaction only produces helium, so it’s clean. There are no emissions or spent fuel waste. We are also aren’t limited with where we can produce this power because the raw materials are very common. So you can build a power plant anywhere and provide safe, clean and reliable base load power 24/7. It could power humanity for the long term.

WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES?

It’s pretty hard to replicate the conditions of the sun, temperatures over 15 million degrees C. No material can hold a gas in those conditions, so researchers have atypically turned to more exotic approaches like lasers and magnetic fields.GeneralFusion1

YOU HAVE FOUND AN INTERESTING WAY TO ADDRESS CHALLENGES.

Crowd sourcing is an interesting idea and a good tool to help address challenges. We worked with a company, InnoCentive, that has worked with NASA, to write up one of our problems and offered  a prize for a solution that meets our requirements. We gave everyone submitting thirty days. We had sixty  different solvers submit potential solutions working on the problem, and selected one winner that was particularly interesting.  Turns out it was from an MIT-trained veteran engineer.  We learned a lot from what makes for a good challenge and we are going to do some more in the future.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR GENERAL FUSION?

We just raised $27 million this spring, and that will fund us for the next few years. We are making steady progress on demonstrating the core science and developing systems that are needed to build a full-scale plant.

Uncategorized

Innovations we Need – Now, and for Generations

By John Stewart
Director, Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

In case you missed this in the early January darkness: A Canadian team based at Vancouver-area TRIUMF has demonstrated a practical answer to the impending shortage of medical isotopes.

Technetium-99m (TC-99m), a commonly used isotope for medical imaging and diagnosis, has until now mainly been derived from molybdenum-99 from the NRU research reactor in Ontario. But the NRU is scheduled to end molybdenum production in 2016.

Industry experts were warning that this would leave global supplies of TC-99m very tight and vulnerable to shortages. But Canada’s nuclear science and technology know-how, with support from the federal government, has been working on answers. The team uses a common brand of medical cyclotron – developed and manufactured in Canada – to make TC-99m without a reactor.

Yanick Lee (right) and Ran Klein (centre) show off the Ottawa Hospital’s cyclotron.
The cyclotron at the Ottawa Hospital produces isotopes used for PET scans, which allow cardiac and cancer patients to receive precisely targeted treatments.

Nuclear technology doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s an integral part of our health care system, helping Canadian doctors to help their patients faster, better, and less intrusively. Not to mention an integral part of our materials science, which supports our whole manufacturing and engineering capability. Not to mention an integral part of our low-carbon, low-cost electric power supply.

Nuclear technology solves real-world problems that affect our quality of life: How long we live. How well our cars run. How safely our planes land. How affordable energy is.

As we noted in our last post, timely solutions like the isotope breakthrough may only be the tip of the iceberg compared to what nuclear innovation could bring humanity in coming decades. The world’s demand for low-carbon energy and clean air is probably the biggest single challenge we face as a species.  And it is increasingly clear that nuclear is the only minimal-carbon energy that can be there on the scale we need, when we need it.

Many reactor designs can be part of that solution, which will be global in scale. Here are some examples of CNA member organizations working in science and technology partnerships right now to make it happen:

  • Burnaby, BC-based General Fusion, which has a prototype fusion reactor, has a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory, and is putting them in place with the Lawrence Berkeley National and Princeton Plasma Physics labs.
Terrestrial
Terrestrial Energy’s IMSR80.
  • Mississauga, ON-based Terrestrial Energy, which is developing integral molten salt reactors, recently announced an initial collaboration with USDOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the home of the original working MSR design.
  • CNA members GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GHNE) and Westinghouse Electric, plus Areva Federal Services, have joined with USDOE’s Argonne National Laboratory in a partnership on next-generation reactors.

National laboratories don’t form these partnerships just to make headlines. They’re looking to solve big problems. Canada and CNA members are going to be part of those answers.

CNA2014

Nuclear Science Whiz Kid Taylor Wilson Explores Fusion Potential at CNA2014

By Romeo St-Martin
Communications Officer
Canadian Nuclear Association

Physics wunderkind Taylor Wilson astounded the science world when, at age 14, he became the youngest person in history to produce fusion. The University of Nevada-Reno offered a home for his early experiments when Wilson’s worried parents realized he had every intention of building his reactor in the garage.

Wilson now intends to fight nuclear terror in the nation’s ports, with a homemade radiation detector priced an order of magnitude lower than most current devices. In 2012, Wilson’s dreams received a boost when he became a recipient of the $100,000 Thiel Prize.

At CNA2014, Wilson discusses ways to revolutionize the way we produce energy, fight cancer, and combat terrorism using nuclear energy.