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Enabling Timely and Commercially Viable Fusion Energy

Controlled fusion has long been regarded as the holy grail of energy–safe, clean, and abundant–and now stands on the cusp of achieving energy breakeven.  The multi-national ITER project now under construction in France aims to reach the energy breakeven milestone with arguably the lowest scientific risk among all fusion approaches.  While ITER’s focus is on demonstrating the scientific feasibility of controlled fusion with a cost of tens of billions of dollars and schedule spanning three decades, a growing number of privately funded fusion efforts (e.g., member companies of the Fusion Industry Association) are pursuing higher-scientific-risk paths directly toward timely, commercially viable fusion energy.  The private companies recognize that fusion approaches with reduced cost, size, complexity, and eventual nameplate generation capacity are needed to both accelerate development and, eventually, allow for market penetration.  This view was encapsulated in the recent U.S. National Academies report A Strategic Plan for U.S. Burning Plasma Researchin the second of its two main recommendations:  “the U.S. should start a national program of accompanying research and technology leading to the construction of a compact pilot plant that produces electricity from fusion at the lowest possible capital cost.”

Building on the ARPA-E ALPHA program and synergies with the Fusion Industry Association and the National Academies recommendation, ARPA-E is exploring opportunities for a potential new fusion program that is broader in R&D scope than ALPHA while pursuing the same vision as ALPHA:  catalyze R&D pathways to lower the cost and accelerate the development time scale for commercially viable fusion energy.  In addition, the potential new program may place emphasis on achieving tech-to-market (T2M) outcomes that can help provide ARPA-E fusion awardees, private fusion ventures, and the larger fusion-energy R&D community a smoother and more sustainable development pathway toward commercially viable fusion energy that includes public, private, and philanthropic support and engagement.

The purpose of this workshop is to address the following questions to help inform and frame the proposed new program:

  • What are the most compelling examples of transformative and off-roadmap R&D opportunities to enable commercially viable fusion energy, especially in two key areas:
    • Advancing the performance of innovative fusion concepts with a plausible path toward timely, commercially viable fusion energy
    • Catalyzing new efforts to develop enabling technologies for fusion power plants with reduced size and nameplate generation capacity (see RFI), leveraging the expertise and experience of R&D communities both within and beyond mainstream fusion
  • What programmatic mechanisms can incentivize more cooperation and mutual benefit between the public and private sectors, and maximize cost-effectiveness of fusion development?
  • What T2M and/or TEA (techno-economic analysis) activities can ARPA-E and its awardees pursue to build the runway for fusion-energy development?  Examples could include (but are not limited to) conducting market analysis, serving as a technical resource for eventual regulatory decision-making, and educating/engaging the full energy ecosystem in appropriate ways (especially private investors, philanthropic foundations, and public-interest advocacy groups)? 

The meeting's output will help direct the actions of ARPA-E towards the most promising and appropriate high risk, high return R&D funding opportunities and management strategies. Interested participants may apply to the workshop by sending an email to ARPA-E-workshops@hq.doe.gov(link sends e-mail) stating your interest in attending along with the requested information: a) your resume including a description of your expertise in the topic and b) a brief statement on what you see as the key challenges and opportunities facing the topic. Please note there is an attendance fee to defray workshop costs. This event is closed to the media.