Massachusetts plant on track to be a global leader in fusion energy

The global race to develop commercial fusion energy could be won in Massachusetts, where a private company is aiming to operate the world’s first fusion power plant within the next decade.

Two-thirds of the roughly 30 fusion companies in the world are located in the United States, but Commonwealth Fusion Systems, which opened its new campus in Devens on Friday, is the furthest along in the effort, said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm.

The nearly 50-acre campus is home to CFS’ corporate headquarters, advanced manufacturing facility and the SPARC facility, where the world’s first commercially viable net energy fusion machine is under construction.

The site also enables ongoing company growth to scale commercial fusion power, a potential source of clean electricity, for the world.

“What a moment for Massachusetts,” Granholm said, adding that the state has the opportunity to kickstart an energy revolution. “Commercial fusion has been a dream, and has been worked on for six decades.”

The fact that CFS, which spun out of MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center in 2018, took its concept from the lab and is close to making it a reality is “huge,” Granholm said.

CFS said its approach to fusion, a clean energy technology that uses the same reaction that powers the sun and stars, is magnetic confinement.

Fusion energy is produced by combining atoms to create heavier ones, and has long been recognized as having great potential as a safe, abundant, zero-carbon source of reliable electricity, according to a White House fact sheet.

“Being here today, you can’t help but marvel at the power and the promise of science,” said Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll. “Today we’re quite literally looking to harness the power of the stars.”

In 2021, CFS and MIT successfully demonstrated a “revolutionary” 20 tesla high-temperature superconducting magnet, which the company says uniquely enabled it to develop commercial fusion energy systems by combining proven science with new innovation.

“Our mission at CFS is to take that science that has been proven, that’s been developed over time, and turn that, with new technologies like the magnets, into an entirely new industry for fusion power,” said company CEO Bob Mumgaard.

“And we want to do that on a scale and on a timeline that can make a difference for climate change.”

CFS aims to get its SPARC facility, which will produce fusion power at a level needed to design commercially viable power plants, up and running in 2025, and achieve net energy soon after.

This effort, the company says, will pave the way for the first fusion power plant, ARC, which is expected to start feeding energy into the grid in the early 2030s.

U.S Sen. Elizabeth Warren said the effort to develop commercial fusion was worked on for decades, but “suddenly accelerated under the Biden administration,” which aims to achieve 100% clean electricity by 2035 and a net-zero economy by 2050.

On the other hand, U.S. Sen Ed Markey said, a precondition to working in the Trump administration was that “you had to be a climate denier.”

Markey said the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, described by the U.S. Department of Energy as the single largest investment in climate and energy in American history, will “supercharge fusion and every other renewable energy.”

This particular law, Warren said, includes $280 million for the Department of Energy’s office of science to carry out activities specifically in fusion energy science construction, and provides “billions” of additional funding for a separate DOE program that will also support fusion projects.

U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan said many other countries, particularly the United Kingdom and China, are also pouring money into fusion research to try to beat the United States at commercialization.

“This administration, this congressional delegation, this commonwealth is committed to seeing us win the race — the race to unlock the power of commercial fusion energy and the race to fight against the climate crisis,” Trahan said.

But Granholm said “there’s a lot that has to happen” to make that possible, including figuring out how to bring down costs to make the effort affordable, and ensure that the U.S. has the supply chains to be able to take fusion energy to a commercial level.

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