New survey of fusion energy companies throws spotlight on important growing industry

Secretary of State for International Trade, Anne-Marie Trevelyan visits Tokamak Energy in Oxfordshire
Secretary of State for International Trade, Anne-Marie Trevelyan

A new survey from the Fusion Industry Association (FIA) and the UK Atomic Energy Authority has provided a snapshot of the state of the growing fusion industry.

The Global Fusion Industry in 2021 survey, the first by FIA and UKAEA, aims to build a directory of fusion energy businesses and provide a periodic update on the sector. It compiles information provided by 23 private companies developing commercial fusion power, including the world’s most advanced players.

There are now at least 35 global fusion companies (12 are either early stage or in stealth mode so declined to participate in the survey) and progress is accelerating. Of the 23 companies featured, 15  were founded since 2010.

18 of the 23 companies have declared private funding of almost $1.8bn to date, plus an additional $85 million in grants and other funding from governments taking the total to $1.87 billion. Four companies – Commonwealth Fusion Systems, General Fusion, TAE Technologies which are all based in the USA, and Tokamak Energy in Oxfordshire – currently account for 85 per cent of this funding. There is still enormous scope for investment and innovation in this emerging industry.

Companies are taking a variety of technical approaches to solving the challenges of fusion power, working on a range of scales.

The vast majority of fusion innovation is focussed on electricity generation, named as a core target market for all but one of the companies questioned (96%), but, interestingly, almost half see the possibility of also applying their technology to space propulsion.

The survey found that 71 per cent of companies believe a 2030s target is achievable for the clean energy technology, while 20 per cent believe that it won’t be ready until the 2040s or 50s.

Melanie Windridge, Communications Director at the USA-based Fusion Industry Association, said: “Fusion has the potential to revolutionise the low-carbon energy supply and provide the non-variable power that will be required to meet the world’s ambitious goals. This survey shows how, largely outside the headlines, the private fusion industry is accelerating towards commercial power.

“The ambitious timescales highlighted in our first Fusion Companies Survey demonstrate the drive and commitment that exists within this growing industry.”

Tim Bestwick, Chief Technology Officer at the UK Atomic Energy Authority, added: “The global need for schedulable and abundant low-carbon energy now presents itself to us with a stark clarity, and so the imperative for fusion energy has never been never greater.

“We are very pleased to have partnered with FIA to produce this survey, which we hope will be a useful and important reference for all of us involved in this exciting new industry.”

Earlier this week the UK’s International Trade Secretary, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, visited Tokamak Energy’s headquarters at the Milton Park scientific hub near Oxford.

The Minister’s visit came in the run up to the prestigious Global Investment Summit in London that took place last week and aimed to highlight the country’s openness to attracting new investment, with a focus on leading clean technology firms.

Tokamak Energy was one of a small number of leading UK companies chosen to showcase their technology and innovation at the event specifically hosted for global investors.  With plans underway for Tokamak Energy to commercialise fusion in the 2030s, the Summit provided investors with an opportunity to see the company’s potential as it develops the fusion power plants of tomorrow, while commercialising the technology applications of today.

International investors have consistently backed Tokamak Energy, which has raised more than £100 million of private investment, making the firm one of only four private fusion companies globally – and the only one in the UK – to have received such a high level of funding.

During her visit to Tokamak Energy, the Secretary of State viewed the ST-40 fusion device and visited the development facility for high-temperature superconducting (HTS) magnets.  Anne-Marie Trevelyan also learned more about the company’s plans to commercialise fusion by combining compact spherical tokamaks with HTS magnets.

CEO of Tokamak Energy, Chris Kelsall said: “We were delighted to welcome the Secretary of State for International Trade to our HQ.  Fusion is of particular interest to the Government now as it seeks to deliver on the Ten Point Plan for a Green Economy and secure trade and investment opportunities for UK plc.  The Global Investment Summit is an important opportunity to showcase how we are pioneering commercial fusion.  We’re working tirelessly to make fusion energy a reality – it’s really positive and we very much appreciate that the Government is supporting us so proactively.”

The Secretary of State’s visit followed recent visits in the summer to Tokamak Energy by the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Kwasi Kwarteng, who opened a new building and the then Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, Amanda Solloway MP.