Tokamak Energy is working on nuclear fusion, the long-awaited holy grail of the energy field. It is the reaction that powers the sun and the stars, and fusion is terrifically hard to do. But harness this stellar reaction and clean, green, safe and abundant energy could be a reality around the world. The promise is tantalising.
Fusion now is an engineering problem. Fusion was achieved in the 1990s (in the JET tokamak at UKAEA Culham and TFTR in the US), but we need to design and build machines that can generate a net energy gain for a sustained period, and which will be economical to build, run and decommission. Tokamak Energy is bringing innovative ideas to the mainstream concept, building on solid foundations but using important new technologies to accelerate the development of fusion energy.
What are the key challenges for the company?
Tokamak Energy is breaking the challenge of developing fusion power into a series of engineering challenges:
- Build a tokamak with all magnets made from high-temperature superconductor (achieved in 2015).
- Reach fusion temperatures in a compact tokamak. We are aiming for 100 million degrees in 2017. This is our Hundred Million Degree Challenge – alongside R&D we are using the thrill of the physics and engineering of such an emotive subject to engage the public, particularly school students, in the excitement of fusion energy and science careers.
- Achieve energy breakeven – at least as much energy out of the machine as we put in to drive the fusion reactions. This would be the ‘Wright Brothers Moment’ for fusion. We aim to achieve this in 2020.
- Produce electricity for the first time.
- Go on to build reliable, economic, fusion power plants – a challenge in itself when one considers the engineering realities of creating such a hostile environment in the centre of a device with a desired operation lifetime of several decades.
Fusion is always described as being ‘10 years away’ – how true is this?
This is the big question – and often it’s said to be ‘always 30 years away’. It’s really difficult to give a timescale for something like this, because we are doing something that has never been done before, so we don’t know what we will find along the way. We have ideas and goals and route plans, but they can never be 100% accurate. Also, we are subject to external constraints, such as how much money is available to work on this. But Tokamak Energy hopes to demonstrate first electricity from fusion within 15 years.
Fusion is also really hard. Stop for a minute to consider what we are trying to do. We want to make a miniature star on Earth and capture its energy. A star. How do you keep a gas contained and insulated so well, that you can heat it up to hundreds of millions of degrees? And how does your container handle the huge amounts of energy as well as capture it for use? It’s understandably tricky.
The Norwegian scientist and polar explorer, Fridtjof Nansen, once said, “The difficult is what takes a little time; the impossible is what takes a little longer.” Be patient. We’re getting there.
Watch how Tokamak Energy is developing nuclear fusion
How Midven Helped:
At Tokamak Energy we believe that investment needs to be a mixture of Government and private, but it depends on the product and the stage of technology readiness. Sometimes private investment can give a well-needed boost. A good use of Government money is things like R&D tax credits, which encourage capital investment in research & development.
What does Innovation mean to you?
“For me, innovation is the product of exploration and I’m fascinated by this interaction. This is why exploration is so important – and by exploration I don’t just mean geographically, I mean scientific research too. Stepping out into the unknown is good. We learn. And we innovate.”
Dr Melanie Windridge is a Business Development Manager at Tokamak Energy, with a PhD in plasma physics (fusion energy)
“We are excited by the opportunity to tackle the substantial engineering challenges in fusion and motivated by the global impact this technology will have.”
David Kingham CEO
Find out more about Tokamak Energy visit the website www.tokamakenergy.co.uk