Last month the German government announced an additional €370m in funding for nuclear fusion research and development. This brings the total budget earmarked for the next five years to €1bn. So is Germany about to take a leap forward in fusion engineering?
“We want to create a fusion ecosystem with industry, so that a fusion power plant in Germany becomes reality as quickly as possible,” said Minister of Research, Bettina Stark-Watzinger.
Sparking a fusion reaction and keeping it going needs immense temperature and pressure, and will require technology that is yet to be invented.
Marvel Fusion, one of four German fusion start-ups, has chosen to build its laser fusion facility in the US. The company’s chief executive, Moritz von der Linden, said it was “a disadvantage” to be based in Germany.
They believe Germany’s tradition of engineering excellence and world-class nuclear fusion research leaves the nation well-placed to drive reactor development.
“I think Germany has a really good story to tell on nuclear fusion,” says Dr Arthur Turrell, author of The Star Builders: Nuclear Fusion and the Race to Power the Planet.
“It’s home to one of the most exciting fusion experiments in the world, the Wendelstein 7-X.”.
“Some of the great breakthroughs, and really interesting experiments, have come out of Germany and out of German support for fusion and they’re involved in a lot of international collaborations too.” Milena Roveda, chief executive of Gauss Fusion, agrees that Germany has the potential to play a pivotal role in making fusion energy a reality.
“Two of the greatest fusion research devices are in Germany. We have excellent physicists. In Germany, nothing [is lacking] except to say, ‘Okay, we’ll do it now’.”
“I am convinced that we would already have fusion power on the grid here [in Germany] if industry had taken a role in this before,” she says.
Headquartered in Hanau, near Frankfurt, Gauss Fusion’s roadmap sees the company opening fusion power plants by the beginning of the 2040s. Others also see the collaboration between research institutes and private enterprise as the pathway to get fusion power online as quickly as possible.
“I think 20 years is an aggressive but realistic timescale,” says Tony Donné, chief executive at EUROfusion, a European consortium of 30 fusion research institutes.
“Research engineers from the institutes think about the design and functionality but manufacturability is very low on their agenda. Ultimately, it needs to be industry who builds the reactors and the first fusion power plants,” says Mr Donné.
” many private fusion companies promise fusion in five to ten years.
Several German companies already engineer individual components for fusion research, such as the optics used in laser experiments, and this is where Mr Donné thinks many may end up contributing to fusion reactors in the long-term.