General Fusion tests world's largest plasma injector, advances commercial fusion power

General Fusion's PI3 plasma injector. Image: General Fusion

B.C.’s General Fusion says its generation of plasma in its newest machine—which is 10 times more powerful than its predecessor and of a scale to what is needed for a commercial fusion power plant—is a milestone for the private venture that is embarking on a pre-commercial demonstration program.

The new machine, the PI3, is the world's largest and most powerful plasma injector. PI3 will demonstrate the plasma injection part of the process, and its performance will be fine-tuned over the coming months to meet the specifications required for the demonstration facility.

The company has developed and tested 18 increasingly sophisticated plasma injectors and conducted over 150,000 plasma experiments over the past decade. Its newest machine scales up to power plant size in order to confirm the technology can perform at commercial scale, but without the complexity of being a power generation facility.

General Fusion, which has now grown to a team of nearly 50 scientists at its laboratories in Burnaby, is the only company currently developing a facility to demonstrate the complete end-to-end capability to produce electricity from fusion energy. Among its backers are oilsands producer Cenovus Energy Inc. and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

The company’s reactor uses pistons to compress and fuse hydrogen atoms together to create energy in the same fashion as the sun.

"General Fusion's plasma injector technology will deliver plasma fuel into a compression chamber where it can be rapidly heated to ignition conditions, releasing energy. This is analogous to a diesel engine, but in our case, the hydrogen fuel coming out of the injector is five million degrees Celsius and will be heated by compression to 150 million degrees Celsius, the temperature required for plasma to burn in a fusion reaction," Michael Delage, General Fusion chief technology officer, said in a statement.

The company's pre-commercial demonstration program, anticipated to take about five years, is intended to demonstrate fusion energy conditions and refine the economics of overall power production using the company's technology, before moving to full commercialization.