The US will reportedly use the COP28 climate summit in Dubai as a platform to lay out a first international strategy for commercialising nuclear fusion power.
New advances mean nuclear fusion is being touted as a potential source of abundant, carbon-free electricity which, unlike today's nuclear fission plants that split rather than fuse atoms, does not produce long-lasting radioactive waste.
The planned strategy will be outlined by US Special Envoy on Climate Change John Kerry on Monday, when he is expected to make a tour of Commonwealth Fusion Systems near Boston, but will be fully unveiled at COP28, according to a Reuters report, which cited two sources familiar with the plans.
The former secretary of state will outline a strategy that foresees strengthened cooperation with other countries as part of an effort to speed commercial deployment.
One of the sources said COP28 — which runs from 30 November to 12 December — will provide a "starting gun for international cooperation" on nuclear fusion, and added that Kerry will present the technology as a climate "solution, not a science experiment".
The fusion strategy will be a framework that lays out plans for the global deployment of the technology that could gain support from international partners, the source told Reuters.
The US signed a cooperation agreement on nuclear fusion with the UK on 8 November.
In December 2022, California-based TAE Technologies and Japan’s National Institute for Fusion Science tested an innovative nuclear fusion technology said to be capable of “powering the planet for more than 100,000 years”.
Essentially tapping the same process that releases light and heat from stars, fusion can be replicated on Earth, for example using lasers or magnets to fuse two light atoms into a denser one, requiring but then also releasing large amounts of energy.
The challenge of achieving a net gain of energy from a commercially viable process has baffled scientists for decades, but the team in California claim to have made a breakthrough on this front, using lasers.
Hopes for a commercial breakthrough for fusion technologies were lifted in August when a team at California's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratoryachieved what is known as fusion ignition– the point at which a fusion reaction becomes self-sustaining instead of requiring a constant input of energy.
Kerry, who as a US senator more than a decade ago backed legislation that would fund fusion research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will tour Commonwealth Fusion with Claudio Descalzi, CEO of Italian energy company Eni, Reuters stated.
Commonwealth Fusion, and several other companies, are focusing on a technology that uses powerful magnets to trap plasma, or gaseous hydrogen heated to about 55 million degrees Celsius until atoms fuse.
Eni is working on four fusion research partnerships in Italy and the US, including one with Commonwealth.
"I will have much more to say on the United States’ vision for international partnerships for an inclusive fusion energy future at COP28," Kerry said in a statement quoted by Reuters.
Decades of federal investment is transforming fusion from an experiment to "an emerging climate solution", he added.
The obstacles to producing commercial electricity from the fusion process remain daunting, partly because researchers have yet managed to sustain the ignition process in a way that demonstrates a capacity to generate electricity continuously and on a large scale.
Some scientists say fusion will be too expensive and take too long to develop to help in the fight against climate change in the foreseeable future.
Despite excitement around the industry, the Fusion Industry Association recently warned that investment growth in the sector shrank by half last year, and new sources of capital are needed to bridge a funding “valley of death”.
There are also regulatory, construction and siting hurdles in the way of creating new power plants to replace parts of existing energy systems.
In 2023, international fusion companies have garnered about $1.4bn in investments for a total of about $6.21bn in mostly private money, but the trend was not yet upwards, the FIA reported.
The number of companies getting investments rose to 43 from 33, spanning a dozen countries, according including the US, where Commonwealth is one of about 25 companies, according to Reuters. Other countries pursuing fusion include Australia, China, Germany, Japan, and the UK.