As world leaders meet in Paris to agree a legal framework aimed at limiting use of fossil fuels and the resulting rises in global temperatures, a UK company says it could be as little as five years from making ''reactor relevant'' fusion, a potential game changer in energy production. Jim Drury reports.
Fusion power is the Holy Grail of energy production - seen by some as a silver bullet for a carbon-neutral future. The failure of the multi-billion dollar ITER project to produce reactor relevant fusion has disappointed scientists and environmentalists. But a batch of small firms like Tokamak Energy believes they're close to cracking the mystery. The UK firm says its reactor's spherical shape and magnets made using high-temperature superconductors means it could be two years from reaching 100 million degrees Celsius. That's seven times hotter than the sun's core and the temperature necessary to achieve fusion. SOUNDBITE (English) DR BILL HUANG, SENIOR TOKAMAK ENGINEER FOR TOKAMAK ENERGY, SAYING: "We've got a slightly different shape from traditional fusion and this allows us to get a higher plasma pressure for a given magnetic field. It's a measure of efficiency called beta, and by using this improved efficiency it means that the overall size of our device is actually quite a bit smaller." Fusion is how stars produce energy and occurs when the nuclei of light atoms, such as hydrogen, are fused together under extreme pressure and heat. Investors are spending millions on small-scale fusion projects. Vast potential return makes them attractive, as does the fact that multiple methods of achieving fusion could all be profitable. SOUNDBITE (English) INVESTOR, MARK WHITE, OF RAINBOW SEED FUND, SAYING: "I think this opportunity here is possibly one of the most spectacular combinations of risk and reward that I've ever seen.....First of all they can be constructed in a factory, so you're talking about economies of scale; and the second key thing is the way in which the grid itself, the future grid, is likely to be more dispersed than current central power generation units." Tokamak Energy is constructing its third reactor and hopes the fifth generation can transfer energy to the grid by 2030. SOUNDBITE (English) DR DAVID KINGHAM, CEO OF TOKAMAK ENERGY, SAYING: "Fusion is one of those technologies which, if it could be harnessed, could be scaled up rapidly to be deployed world-wide by 2050 and could make a very big difference to carbon emissions and therefore to climate change from 2050 onwards." With world leaders meeting in Paris to hammer out a deal to limit global emissions, fusion power may help them meet those promises.