General Atomics announces concept for Fusion Pilot Plant

25 October 2022

San Diego, California-based General Atomics (GA) has announced a steady-state, compact advanced tokamak Fusion Pilot Plant (FPP) concept, which it says capitalises on its innovations and advancements in fusion technology.

A cutaway of the Fusion Pilot Plant concept (Image: General Atomic)

Using powerful magnets and microwave heating, the GA fusion system creates a plasma - a hot gas in which electrons separate from atoms. In steady-state operation, the fusion plasma is maintained for long periods of time to maximise efficiency, reduce maintenance costs and increase the lifetime of the facility.

The company said the facility would utilise its proprietary Fusion Synthesis Engine (FUSE) to enable engineers, physicists, and operators to rapidly perform a broad range of studies and continuously optimise the power plant for maximum efficiency.

GA has also developed an advanced modular concept (GAMBL) for the breeding blanket which is a critical component of the fusion power facility that breeds tritium, a fusion energy fuel source, to make the fusion fuel cycle self-sufficient.

According to GA, the FPP would provide baseload energy without any harmful emissions or long-lived waste. "Capable of operating around the clock, commercialised fusion power plants would provide sustainable, carbon-free firm energy for generations," it said.

"The General Atomics Fusion Pilot Plant is a revolutionary step forward for commercialising fusion energy," said Wayne Solomon, Vice President of Magnetic Fusion Energy at GA. "Our practical approach to a FPP is the culmination of more than six decades of investments in fusion research and development, the experience we have gained from operating the DIII-D National Fusion Facility on behalf of the US Department of Energy (DOE), and the hard work of countless dedicated individuals. This is a truly exciting step towards realising fusion energy."

Brian Grierson, Director of the Fusion Pilot Plant Hub at GA, added: "General Atomics has a long and storied history of being at the forefront of fusion innovations. We are proud to be a world leader in plasma theory and modeling, advanced materials engineering, and other areas necessary for commercialising fusion. We intend to bring the full strength of our institutional expertise to this effort as we advance our vision for fusion energy."

With support from the DOE and substantial international collaboration, DIII-D has been conducting groundbreaking fusion research since the mid-1980s. DIII-D has over 100 participating institutions and a research team of more than 600 users.

In March 2021, scientists at DIII-D released a new concept for a compact fusion reactor design they said could help define the technology necessary for commercial fusion power. The Compact Advanced Tokamak (CAT) concept enables a higher-performance, self-sustaining configuration that holds energy more efficiently, allowing it to be built at a reduced scale and cost. The CAT concept was developed from first-of-a-kind reactor simulations. The physics-based approach combines theory developed at the DIII-D facility with computing by Oak Ridge National Laboratory scientists using the Cori supercomputer at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, and is based on development and testing of the underlying physics concepts on DIII-D.

In July this year, GA announced it was partnering with the Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL) to address a critical challenge to economic fusion energy as part of a public-private partnership funded by the DOE. The partnership will combine GA's experience in fusion energy research with SRNL's expertise in processing and storing tritium, one of the fuel gases used in fusion.

"Excitement for fusion energy is at an all-time high, with historic interest from private industry and government," said Anantha Krishnan, Senior Vice President of the General Atomics Energy Group. "We look forward to working with our partners to make our vision for economic fusion energy a reality. Now is the time for fusion, and General Atomics plans to lead the way."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News