A British technology entrepreneur has founded a new company with the intention of creating a prototype fusion reactor within three years.
Richard Dinan, whose company portfolio already includes meteorite-based security wearable Senturion and 3D printer company IonCore, has founded Applied Fusion Systems not to win the race to large-scale power generation with the technology, but establish a foothold in the field from which to explore other money-making avenues.
“Obviously there are these giants at it – ITER – and my view is not to try and beat them, it is that I need to get my hand onto this technology and the best way to do that is to get your hands dirty and build one,” he said in an interview with Factor.
Dinan, who has previously appeared on structured reality programme Made in Chelsea, joins a growing body of companies beginning to take fusion seriously as an emerging technology.
“I’m not alone in doing this, there are other small companies developing their own reactors and they’ve built some pretty small ones,” he explained.
“There’s one I know of that’s achieved 200m Kelvin in the UK – without giving the name of the company – and they are a reasonably small operation.”
Dinan’s decision to launch the company was prompted by enquires his 3D company IonCore, which is behind the Zinter range of home printers, received.
“We were approached recently – I say recently, about a year ago – on whether or not we would be able to print some of the unusual shapes of tokomak reactors,” he said, referring to the most common reactor shape being explored for fusion.
“Electromagnetism doesn’t just circulate, it’s more toroidal, it’s more like a corkscrew shape. These are quite challenging shapes to produce, especially when you are prototyping this kind of thing. It’s perfect for 3D printing, because we can make the most obscure shapes.”
Because Dinan owns a 3D printing company, he has the resources to rapidly prototype parts for a prototype fusion reactor, one of the key reasons he decided to launch the company.
“More was this an excuse to because it’s fascinating to me, I’ve always been fascinated in prototyping machinery, it’s quite complex, with plasmas and super-cooled magnets and all the problems of space and size and temperature that come with it,” he added.
“But I’ve hired some nuclear physicists myself and I had them on hand to consult, and we built a theoretical prototype – we built an electromagnet setup of a tokomak and looked at how the technology works and why, and some of the problems that are being encountered.”
The prospect of building a fusion reactor may seem utterly pie-in-the-sky to most of us, but Dinan is both enthusiastic and optimistic about the prospect.
“Effectively we just have a location where we’re just building it ourselves,” he said.
“I don’t really want to put a timeframe on it, but within three years we would be looking to demonstrate our prototype. But I would like it to be a lot sooner than that.
“I’m not saying that within three years we’re going to make something that’s going to break any records or win any nobel prizes, but it will be a tokamak that it is capable of heating and moving the plasma which is something that’s been done before a long time ago but it will be a prototype that works to a level where we can study the technology.”
For most, the key focus of nuclear fusion is its potential for revolutionising energy supply, however while the technology has seen considerable development, it has not yet reached the stage where it is a viable power source.
However Dinan believes there are other underexplored aspects to the technology.
“There’s a reason we’ve called it Applied Fusion – its applying that technology to other things, because it’s all very specific at the moment, the main goal is to be able to make this – to create more energy than it uses to run, which has been the problem before,” explained Dinan.
“We are achieving [fusion], but it takes so much energy to do so. And that’s where most of the focus is, but at the same time there is a lot of other interesting technology that is being built as a result of these tokomaks, which isn’t really being looked into that much, especially with plasmas and the control of plasma.”
With funding in place through his own network of contacts, Dinan is confident that his gamble on such an emerging technology will be successful; however he is remaining coy about exactly how he plans to make money out of fusion.
“There’s opportunities within opportunities. The assumption is that we totally believe in the technology and we believe it’s going to come much quicker,” he said.
“If that assumption is wrong, then we’ll lose, but if it is right then on the back of the implementation of this new power source there are plenty of avenues to make money. But the way of doing it is not to be theoretical, it is to get practical and small companies can do that, and I think it’s time they did.”
- Factor previously visited the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy to find out whether fusion could solve the world’s energy problems. We also looked inside the record-breaking fusion reactor.
All images courtesy of of the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy