Design Engineering

Canadian firm looks to fire up first commercial fusion reactor by 2014

By Design Engineering Staff   

General Energy fusion reactor General Fusion

B.C.-based General Fusion thinks it may have the stuff to unlock unlimited, clean power.

Burnaby, B.C. — AP reports that a small Canadian start-up has announced its intention to build and test the world’s first working prototype of a commercial fusion reactor. Burnaby, B.C.-based General Fusion hopes to have the prototype done by 2014 and a working reactor on the market by 2020. So far, the company has attracted $30 million Canadian from investors, including Sustainable Development Technology Canada.

Contrary to fission reactors, which produce heat through the splitting of atoms, fusion reactors produce vast amounts of heat by fusing two “light” atoms together, a process that fuels the Sun. Although the world’s top scientist have attempted to make such reactors, the problem is that getting the process going takes huge amounts of power. Once it gets going, the reaction requires a steady stream of fuel and the reaction needs to be controlled so it produces more energy than input.

For its plans, General Fusion’s design would inject plasma into a metal containment vessel filled with a swirling liquid vortex of lead and lithium. At either end of the spherical containment tank, plasma injectors heat “puffs” of deuterium-tritium gas to 1 million degrees. These superheated “smoke-rings” of superheated gas then meet and combine in the center of the tank.

Approximately 200 pneumatic pistons then strike the walls of the tank to create an acoustical shock wave that ripples inward in order to collapse and compress the plasma to thermonuclear conditions. The resultant heat would then be used to spin steam turbines.


The company admits to AP that the chance of success is slim and it does face some significant competition. Construction of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), a project to build a fusion reactor in France, began in 2007 and first results are expected by 2019.


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