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MIT News: MIT’s big push on fusion

Researchers will work with industrial collaborators to pursue fusion as a source of carbon-free power.

Today, MIT announced plans to work with a newly formed company, Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS), to realize the promise of fusion as a source of unlimited, safe, carbon-free energy. Zach Hartwig, an assistant professor of nuclear science and engineering, is one of the Institute’s leads on the effort, along with others in MIT’s Plasma Fusion and Science Center (PSFC). He spoke with MIT News about the group’s vision for a fusion-powered future.

Q: Why is this new collaboration needed to support fusion energy?

A: Mitigating global climate change requires new sources of zero-carbon energy as soon as we can deliver them, and we are going to need a completely new approach to ensure that fusion energy can be a significant part of the solution.

The hard reality of climate change is that every single nation that has ever industrialized and made a better life for its citizens did so at the expense of the climate. There is, at present, simply no other way to do this than to dump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels for energy.

As a global society, we have to do better. Fusion energy represents one tremendously attractive pathway, if we can demonstrate its potential and accelerate its commercial deployment. This is going to require new models of innovation that couple research institutions, such as MIT, with private companies, such as CFS, that are capable of commercializing fusion — and then providing that relationship with sustainable, patient capital that can fund the development of breakthrough energy solutions at scale.

Fusion is the fundamental energy source of the universe, powering our sun and the distant stars. The promise of harnessing fusion to produce energy on Earth is simple: limitless, safe, zero-carbon energy.

Like the governments of many nations, the U.S. has funded basic research on fusion science and technology since the 1950s, making tremendous progress toward the goal of fusion energy. MIT has long been a leading institution in fusion research, receiving research support primarily from the Department of Energy, including the funding of three major fusion energy experiments at MIT culminating in the Alcator C-Mod tokamak, which ended 25 years of operation in 2016. The DOE continues its support of fusion energy research at other facilities around the U.S. and the world, including the ITER experiment now under construction in France.

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