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PI3 plasma injector
General Fusion says it has the world’s largest and most powerful plasma injector, capable of creating a ring of hydrogen plasma 6 feet in diameter and heating it to millions of degrees. This machine is a prototype of the fuel injector for a fusion power plant. (General Fusion Photo)

The Canadian government says it’s investing $37.5 million (49.3 million Canadian dollars) in General Fusion, a British Columbia company that aims to build a prototype plant powered by nuclear fusion.

Funding from Canada’s Strategic Innovation Fund was announced today by Defense Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan and Navdeep Bains, Canada’s minister of innovation, science and economic development.

In a news release, Burnaby, B.C.-based General Fusion said the government’s backing would support the creation of 400 new jobs and boost the development of a “first-of-its-kind, large-scale prototype plant that will demonstrate a practical approach to commercializing affordable, abundant, safe and emission-free electricity from fusion energy.”

Nuclear fusion is the reaction that powers the sun. It involves combining atomic nuclei under extreme pressure and temperature to produce a direct conversion of mass into energy, in accordance with Albert Einstein’s famous E=mc2 formula.

Since its founding in 2002, General Fusion has been focusing on a technological approach known as magnetized target fusion, which involves injecting a pulse of magnetically confined plasma into a sphere that contains a swirling vortex of molten lead and lithium. The pumped liquid metal would carry away the heat created by a fusion reaction, and that heat could be used to generate electricity via a steam turbine.

The funding announced today follows up on more than C$26 million in grants that General Fusion has received from Sustainable Development Technology Canada over the past decade. General Fusion also has raised tens of millions of dollars from investors who include Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

“General Fusion is working at the forefront of clean technology,” Bains said. “It has the real potential to transform how the world generates abundant clean energy. This will help us reduce our environmental impacts.”

General Fusion currently employs more than 70 people in Burnaby. The company plans to invest at least $150 million in research and development, with the potential for more than $250 million in additional investment for the construction of a demonstration plant.

“This Strategic Innovation Fund investment, and Canada’s expectation for a financial return on this investment, are a vote of confidence in General Fusion’s ability to successfully commercialize its technology and in our ability to deliver new jobs and new opportunities throughout British Columbia and across Canada,” General Fusion CEO Christofer Mowry said.

During a Seattle talk in February, Mowry said General Fusion would select the site for the demonstration plant by the end of this year. The company’s plan calls for a five-year period of construction and operation for the demo plant, potentially setting the stage for a commercial fusion reactor to be built sometime in the next decade or so.

General Fusion isn’t the only company seeking to corral commercial fusion: Other ventures include Redmond, Wash.-based Helion Energy, California-based TAE Technologies and Massachusetts-based Commonwealth Fusion Systems.

In addition to the commercial efforts, the U.S. federal government is a partner in the $20 billion ITER experimental fusion facility that’s currently being built in France. Canada is considering whether to rejoin the ITER consortium.

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