Fusion Energy at the All in Conference

Around the 27 minute mark the discussion turned to “When?” Not one but both CEO’s expressed the opinion that we are talking electricity to your home, or someone’s home in 10 years, or 2033.

Not only did both CEO’s believe this, but the venture capitalist on the panel believed this. (I am not sure he was a venture capitalist, but he struck me as one).

While they went on about how great it will be to get electricity at 1 cent a kilowatt hour, they did not point out the following:

It cost money, a significant amount of money to deliver electricity, nobody is getting a 1 cent per kilowatt hour bill anytime soon.

The cost to build out these systems will demand a great deal if capital and labor, both capital and labor are likely to get more expensive with the build out of these systems. For that matter, capital and labor will be in short supply with the build out of battery factories. This will make it worse.

Finally, we currently have a money flow the is integrated into the world economy. Fusion power, will disrupt this money flow and that will probably disrupt the capital markets.

I recommend you take the time to thoughtfully consider this entire video. If you are not familiar with Helion and CFS this is a quick introduction. I have been following CFS for at least 5 years and Helion for a year. Both are well capitalized. While neither may succeed, some one will, and soon.



Since I recently posted here in another thread about some of the engineering problems that currently exist with fusion, I suppose I should make some comments about the YouTube video.

What you say is true about the cost of electricity being more than just the cost of running a power plant. I looked at my recent electric bill, and it is divided fairly equally between generation and delivery charges. The delivery charges are for maintaining the transmission lines, plus operating the substations, transformers and other equipment which distribute the power to the various neighborhoods. There is also a certain amount of overhead involved in running a utility.

About the video…
Both of the fusion systems described will potentially have problems with the neutron irradiation materials issues I described in the other thread. In the first video presentation, the reactor appears to be the standard Tokamak design, similar to the ITER being built in France. Therefore, that Tokamak design better have some way of dealing with the long term high energy neutron flux produced from the fusion plasma.

The second speaker discussed a technology I am not very familiar with, but the physics he described involves deuterium-deuterium (D-D) and deuterium-helium 3 (D-He3) fusion. D-D fusion also produces neutrons, so that technology will potentially have the same materials issues.

Both of the presenters are obviously experienced and skilled in making those sort of PowerPoint presentations to whichever venture capital firms they are soliciting for money. Those sort of capital seekers usually have a way of focusing on the positives of what they want to do, while minimizing or ignoring the negative hurdles they might run into down the road.

Bottom line: I have read numerous news articles and watched numerous YouTube videos over the years, about how some private company entrepreneur has finally solved fusion with some game-changing technology. Who knows? Maybe these guys are onto something. But for now, I will maintain some skepticism.

  • Pete


I engaged in the other thread and will do so here.

Interesting angle on longevity concerns. (In essence, the neutron radiation problem - and attendant material decay/suitability concerns)

With machine, component, and system longevity (useful life, inspection, repair and replacement intervals), we have an engineering and economics problem.

Why would these be anything other than a factor into amoritization of PPE, OPEX and capital considerations?

Once there is some level of operating history to match up the empirical basis and the research numbers stated in prototypes, this all becomes a financing problem with supply/demand forecasts, siting concerns, energy supply and operating agreements, and the balance of soft factors (good will, opportunity cost, regulatory benefit/burden, etc.)

Right? This is business viability problem. It’s not the science.

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I took one fusion power course in college. This was obviously a number of years ago, but from what I can tell, the issues haven’t changed much.

A big part of the problem is that the neutrons, when they impact the first wall, will tend to knock off little bits of wall material. This is called sputtering. Those little bits of material can then migrate into the plasma where the fusion is occurring. If the plasma gets too contaminated with this foreign material, the temperature of the plasma goes down and the whole fusion reaction might stop or significantly slow down. This might affect the Tokamak style plants more than the Magneto-Inertial Fusion design that the second guy in the video described.

From the link I posted in the other thread, they are now building a materials testing facility in Spain. Construction is expected to take 10 years, so it will be a while before they even start getting test data and some answers. Thinking back to the entrepreneurs in the video in this thread, I wonder what those guys know, that the EUROfusion and ITER people don’t know?

  • Pete

Excellent description of the engineering problems.

Direct question: Is it possible to quantify a fusion plasma substance regeneration or recharge interval for the system? (i.e. How often do I have to change the oil filter? the oil? etc.)

(Note: a specific answer doesn’t really matter unless it is so sufficiently short as to push the definition of viable for a commercial operation)

If we’re talking a weekly (or daily) backflush and upcycle or, perhaps an annual replacement of the plasma media, that can be factored into the business model.

Similarly, when enough sputtering has occurred, the design safety factors require replacement or inspection and recertification. For any commercial design, the business team just models annual or multiyear running cycles with turnaround operations as needed.

To produce a stable operation, you model appropriate spares. You model the facility to accommodate turnarounds while running and you model distribution and battery limit connects to accommodate.
(or you do this in the spring and fall when nobody is running the HVAC)

I think your points are valid and these are engineering problems that support financial operating models.

I think those 2 CEOs are doing what CEOs do best: Maintaining lock-step operational focus on the eventuality.

In this case, it’s operating fusion plants.

At the state of their business, these visionaries would consider many of the items you and I discuss as irrelevant to the mission at this time.

The financial implications of scale will be served with adequate attention (and funds) at a later time. The issues are IMPORTANT, but not RELEVANT.

Your article (dated this month - recent) indicates that the empirical evidence provided by the systems as designed by these two companies will provide real world empirical evidence of these service intervals far sooner than some group of academics*.

If those two CEOs want to bleed on the edge, exploring how to put fusion reactors into service, they had better explore the service and maintenance of their designs. I believe they will continue to do just that. Their company and funding support depends upon it.

*I’m sure the researchers have laid out plans for testing the perfect fusion hammer and the perfect fusion nail and 1e99++ alternate possibilities to study. That testing is the antithesis of the practical business approach, obviously.

++a bit of hyperbole, of course.

I will limit my answer to just the Tokamak magnetic confinement design. I don’t know enough about the Magneto-Inertial (Helion) configuration to make any useful comments.

The final power plant designs still have unknowns, but I believe the idea is to add new hydrogen fuel and remove the “ash” fusion products on-line, while the reactor is in operation. They may try to remove the sputtered wall particles at the same time, but I don’t know how successful that effort might be.

The following link provides some description and a diagram showing the fuel operations for the ITER (which will not be a real working power plant).

The following statement from the link might be a little surprising:
“Less than 1g of fusion fuel is present in the vacuum vessel at any one moment.”

Less than one gram! A metal paper clip weighs about one gram. So the density of the plasma is very low, and any “feed and bleed” addition and removal of hydrogen and helium respectively are going to be a very small amounts. Will they also be able to remove any sputtered wall material along with the helium? I don’t know. But even if they can, there is still the long-term damage that might be done to that first wall, so periodic replacement might still be necessary.

Yes, they can plan for those replacements, and design the plant with wall replacements in mind. But that will still add to the maintenance budget, which adds to the overall operating expenses (OpEx).

In the video, they were talking about 1 cent per kwh costs. They were probably referring to a combined OpEx and CapEx (capital expense) cost. But today’s hydroelectric plant OpEx is only 1.2 cents per kwh. Nuclear fission plants today produce power at 2.3 cents per kwh, and fossil steam is 3.6 cents/kwh on average. (Fuel costs for fossil plants can be highly variable.) Granted, that is only OpEx. It still takes a lot of capital to build a nuclear plant. But once the construction costs are paid for, the plants produce electricity at a rather low cost. And that is for power plants we already know how to build.


  • Pete