Is nuclear fusion a realistic answer to solving our sustainable energy challenges?
Episode one of our much awaited podcast mini-series, The Driving Force, is finally here and we are delighted to welcome Warrick Matthews, MD of Tokamak Energy to be our guest. Warrick gives some amazing insights into the developments in nuclear fusion technology, why it has the potential to solve the world’s ever increasing demand for power, as well as why he believes it will be available on the grid by the mid 2030’s.
Read on for some snippets of this fascinating conversation or listen now to the full episode.
What is nuclear fusion power?
‘Fusion is the power source of the sun, it powers the sun and the stars and so we’re essentially recreating the power of the sun and the stars here on earth.’
Why do we need fusion power?
‘Fusion is deemed to be the holy grail for energy production because it can do what no other source of energy can do and it needs to happen for us to achieve net zero by 2050.
‘Also, within the next 10 years, we will have 1.5 billion more people on the planet, which means that in that time you have a 100% increase in electricity demand.’
How do you create fusion power?
‘You need to up the temperature level to about six and a half times the temperature of the sun; that is an incredible 100 million degrees celsius. And the great thing about fusion is the fuel for it is universally abundant; effectively, it comes from seawater.’
How safe is nuclear fusion?
‘Fusion by design has got its own failsafe, I would say if you compare it to nuclear fission where you are splitting a very heavy atom, there is always a potential that that can have a runaway condition. And that’s what modern reactors control and they’re safe.
‘Fusion is different because rather than splitting an atom, you are forcing two very light nuclei to fuse. And they desperately desperately don’t want to do that, which is why you have to have very, very high fields and extremely high temperatures. And the moment that one of these conditions falls away the reaction stops.’
Will fusion energy really be on the grid within the next 10 years?
‘…so the enabling technology is coming together. We have some other technology we need to deliver in our technology roadmap, things like liquid metal shielding it within the reactor itself. But we’ve broken down the technology challenges into 11 building blocks, and have a technology readiness level programme associated with all of those.’
What will be the cost of fusion power?
‘Any energy that you’re putting forward, the currency is the levelized cost of energy. And we have to aim for a cost effective price point. So our levelized cost of energy needs to be around 70 or below 70 per megawatt hour in the first generation of reactors, and then we need that to with an experience curve dropped down to around 50 in the second generation.’
What’s the role of governments in the development of fusion technology?
‘I take the UK as a great example. Here is an opportunity for it to take an absolutely leading position and it is doing that now. I would equally look at the US Department of Energy, they’ve laid down a 10 year challenge for a fusion prototype. And I think other countries are looking at their net zero commitments for 2050 and thinking, we’ve got gaps and fusion really does come in to solve some of those gaps in the hardest to abate industries that they have in country. So country level governments are hugely important.’
Listen to the full episode – available now
To hear everything Warrick has to say on the future of fusion energy, including how Tokamak has managed to reach that incredible 100 million degrees temperature and what’s next on their journey to getting it onto the grid, listen to the full episode on our website or through your favourite podcast channel: