Report warns suppliers ‘reluctant to invest’
Companies in the nuclear fusion industry spent over $500m (€462m) on their supply chain in 2022, a figure that is set to grow to over $7bn by the time a first of a kind plant is deployed.
The nuclear fusion supply chain could potentially be worth trillions of dollars in a mature fusion industry, estimated to be sometime between 2035 and 2050, a Fusion Industry Association (FIA) survey of about 26 private fusion plant developers said.
The US-based FIA warned that fusion companies are getting signals from suppliers that they are reluctant to make the necessary investment right now. Seventy percent of fusion companies said their suppliers see building the capacity to meet future demand as too risky without committed orders.
The FIA made several recommendations to address supplier reluctance, including increased investment, both public and private, into fusion and the potential use of “risk-sharing financing” to enable suppliers to invest in new capacity. Such financing might include fusion investors making investments in key suppliers.
The FIA called for standardisation and regulation to bring more certainty to the supply chain and confidence to make long-term investments.
Andrew Holland, the head of the FIA, said the projected growth of the fusion industry creates a huge business opportunity for current and new suppliers. He said: “It is clear more long-term certainty is needed – through a mix of finance, regulation, risk-sharing mechanisms, and more communication – so suppliers are prepared to scale ahead of industry need.”
Much of the supply chain expense is expected to go to high grade steel and concrete and superconducting wire to build plants where fuels will be heated to more than 100 million Celsius in special chambers. Money will also go to super magnets, lasers, and power supplies.
Biggest Challenge Is Need To Scale Up
Holland said there is little concern about geopolitical supply risk in the supply chain as no critical parts or materials face global supply shortfalls or come only from unstable countries.
“The biggest challenge honestly is just scale,” Holland said. “We want to make sure the supply chain companies are aware that fusion is coming so they can make the investments to scale up.”
While there is a global lack of tritium, a fuel that many companies plan to use to fire fusion plants, Holland said that is not a concern because the companies plan to breed tritium in the fusion plants with the use of lithium.
A fusion plant would only need the amount of lithium found in about four electric vehicles, he estimated.
Fusion, the process that powers the sun and stars, has long been considered the Holy Grail of energy production. Fusion is capable of providing a nearly limitless source of energy without producing harmful carbon emissions or long-lived waste. The world’s first commercial facility would mark the dawn of a new era of energy.
The world’s biggest fusion project is the €20bn ($21bn) International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (Iter) plant under construction at Cadarache in southern France.
Earlier this month US-based reactor developer Helion Energy announced an agreement to provide Microsoft with electricity from its first nuclear fusion power plant.