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Nuclear fusion: Munich fusion researchers go to America

Nuclear fusion: Munich fusion researchers go to America

From LMU to the University of Colorado: Munich energy start-up Marvel Fusion now wants to develop a nuclear fusion power plant in the US. By 2026, the Colorado State University campus will have the “world’s most powerful short-pulse laser facility,” the company and university jointly announced. “This new facility will enable the company to significantly accelerate its own fusion concept development to a power plant level.”

The system enables new tests and meets “all requirements to demonstrate operation suitable for power plants,” Marvell Fusion said in a press release. Amy Parsons, president of the University of Colorado, emphasized the economic importance of the collaboration: “This project will bring significant economic benefits and reputation to both Fort Collins and the state of Colorado in the long term.”

Eco-friendly technology

In nuclear fusion, the nuclei do not split, but fuse together like in the Sun. In theory, a fusion power plant can produce climate-friendly energy like a nuclear power plant without nuclear waste and without the risk of a nuclear disaster – but in practice it is much more difficult. Nevertheless, the clean energy source is fueling ambitions in research and politics. The Union Ministry of Research asserted in a position paper in June: “Fusion energy is environmentally friendly.” The electricity produced is CO2 neutral. “Furthermore, fusion produces only short-lived and low-level radioactive waste that does not require final disposal.” According to Marvel Fusion, this waste is comparable to X-ray machines or medical radiation therapy.

At the end of last year, researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the US reported a breakthrough: for the first time, more energy was produced than consumed in a fusion experiment. At the time, US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm called it “the most impressive scientific achievement of the 21st century” and the beginning of a new era in energy production.

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There are still many barriers to energy production

But the devil is in the details: if you include the entire test setup, the energy balance was even more clearly negative. “So to actually generate energy, the lasers have to be many times more efficient,” said Christian Linsmeier. Geo magazine with. The director of the Institute for Energy and Climate Research in Jülich told GEO that such a technological development cannot be expected at the moment.

However, Marvel Fusion founder Moritz von der Linden told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that the Colorado facility will demonstrate that nuclear fusion can be an efficient, clean and large-scale energy source. The system is said to cost a total of 150 million euros – money that apparently cannot be found in Germany.

“We would have liked to set up the plant in Germany,” van der Linden said, but European investors rejected it. “In America, apart from government agencies, people like Salesforce founder Bill Gates and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos are investing heavily in fusion research,” van der Linde explains: “In this country, you’re the only one looking. The state !”

Europe follows a different technology

This may also be due to a different approach to fusion in Europe: a research group in southern France has been working on the ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) experimental fusion reactor since 2007. Unlike the experiment in California, the ITER project relies on a method that does not use lasers: hot enough plasma must be fused so that it does not cool down and the fusion reaction can be maintained for long periods of time. Linsmeier is involved in the project and told Geo that he is confident that a prototype power plant can be connected to the grid within 15 years.

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Marvel Fusion also plans to build a prototype commercial fusion power plant within a decade. It is expected to cost several billion euros and may be financed by the first customers. Marvel Fusion expects to make a significant contribution to the energy supply by 2045.