Fusion supply chain needs confidence to invest, says FIA

17 May 2023

A primary challenge facing the companies commercialising fusion technology is building a supply chain, according to the Fusion Industry Association (FIA). Fusion developers are set to spend potentially trillions of dollars in a mature fusion industry, it says, but suppliers are reluctant to invest without committed orders.

(Image: FIA)

In its new report - titled The Fusion Industry Supply Chain: Opportunities and Challenges - the FIA says: "For the most part, the fusion industry agrees the capabilities exist to build the fusion power systems of this decade, even as significant engineering, materials, and technology hurdles remain to get to cost-competitive and reliable power plants. Today's construction needs, and even the design of pilot plants, will rely on a small workforce and a few specialist firms.

"But, in the next decade and beyond, moving to mass-scale, low-cost production and assembly of fusion power plants will require investment from suppliers in new facilities and will need new companies to enter the supply chain."

The report - which surveyed 26 private fusion companies - calculated that the fusion supply chain was worth over USD500 million in 2022. Spending by fusion developers is expected to increase to over USD7 billion by the time they build their first-of-a-kind power plant.

While most of the materials and components (such as concrete, steel and power electronics) for commercial fusion power plants will be met through already existing supply chains, there are a limited set of supply chain needs that are unique to the fusion industry, the report notes. These are mostly specialised manufactured components, such as high-powered magnets, laser components, heat management technologies, advanced materials, high powered semiconductors and fusion fuel. Needs also include specialist contractors to help make parts, as well as legal services.

"In the next decade and beyond, moving to mass-scale, low-cost production and assembly of fusion power plants will require investment from suppliers in new facilities and will need new companies to enter the supply chain," the FIA said. "The difference between building one or two pilot plants and building the hundreds of power plants that companies suggest a fully-realised fusion industry would look like will take a state-change in both the companies and the supply chain themselves."

However, there are signs that some suppliers may not be ready to scale ahead of demand, the report notes. More than half of fusion companies (58%) say suppliers need to invest now to meet scaling ambitions, yet 70% said their suppliers see building the capacity to meet future demand as too risky without committed orders.

The report makes several recommendations to address supplier reluctance. These include: increasing investment, both public and private, into fusion to give confidence about the necessity of supplier scale; experimenting with risk-sharing financing to enable suppliers to invest in new capacity - such as through fusion investors making investments in key suppliers; creating online networks and an annual supplier event, to help communication and awareness between fusion companies and suppliers; and deploying standardisation and regulation to bring more certainty to the supply chain and confidence to make long-term investments.

"The projected growth of the fusion industry creates a huge business opportunity for current and new suppliers," said FIA CEO Andrew Holland. "It is clear that more long-term certainty is needed - through a mix of finance, regulation, risk-sharing mechanisms, and more communication – so suppliers are prepared to scale ahead of industry need.

"The fusion supply chain has a unique advantage as it is not reliant on rare materials only found in unstable countries, but on high quality manufacturing and specialist components that come from open economies. With appropriate private and public investment, fusion energy will one day provide a sustainable, reliable, and abundant form of clean energy to communities around the world."

The Fusion Industry Association is a US-registered non-profit independent trade association for the international nuclear fusion industry. Founded in 2018, it is headquartered in Washington, DC.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News