Tokamak Energy reveals breakthrough in efficient powering of HTS magnets, which could lower fusion costs

Tokamak Energy

Milton Park, Oxfordshire-based Tokamak Energy has announced the breakthrough design of cryogenic (very low temperature), power electronics technology for the high-efficiency operation of its superconducting magnets. This will result in reduced costs of future fusion power plants – which is key to commercialising and scaling the technology.

The power electronics team at Tokamak Energy has developed a novel power converter inside a vacuum cryostat. Successful tests completed last November have demonstrated a 50 per cent reduction in the heat load from the current leads.

The news follows our report last July that the company is to double its workforce as well as the size of its facility in the UK, in a major expansion drive that delivers a significant boost for UK fusion development and commercialisation.

More than a hundred and sixty highly skilled new roles for scientists and engineers will be created at the company’s headquarters at the Milton Park scientific hub near Oxford, over the next three years.

Milton Park based Tokamak Energy signals major expansion with over 160 new jobs as it pioneers commercial fusion energy

In its latest news, Tokamak’s superconducting magnets are used in tokamak fusion reactors to contain and isolate plasma, so that it can reach the high temperatures at which fusion occurs. One of the main challenges for the magnets is the cryogenic cooling system, which is one of the biggest power consumption loads on a tokamak. Improving cooling efficiency will reduce costs for future fusion power plants.

This programme has been funded through the UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Advanced Modular Reactor (AMR) Feasibility and Development Phase 2 programme.

Chris Kelsall, CEO of Tokamak Energy, said: “We have now invented a new type of cryogenic power supply, based on the latest power electronics devices, that is highly efficient at low temperatures. This means we have the potential to reduce cryogenic capital and running costs for HTS magnets, by 50%, or more. This novel approach will provide significant cost savings, contributing to the achievement of commercial fusion energy.”

Further developmental work will be undertaken to demonstrate this highly efficient form of power supply under 1000A continuous operation and 2000A pulsed operations.

The UK government set out its strategy to invest in fusion last year, which includes collaborating internationally; more scientific research; and unleashing private sector innovation to achieve the commercialisation of fusion energy.

In the short term, there are important economic benefits to fusion research. The UK Government intends to exploit these to help build back better and level up economic opportunity across the country. However, it is the long term benefits of commercially viable fusion energy that are the real prize. Analysis suggests that the annual fusion energy market (in present values) in 2100 could be worth around £52 billion, rising to £167 billion if the capital cost of fusion power plants could be reduced by 30 per cent. The wider benefits to the world of a new low carbon, safe and continuous power source are incalculable but significant.

But it should be remembered that the challenges of fusion energy remain considerable. As with any technically demanding goal, there will be setbacks. However, advances in fusion science and engineering capabilities mean that there is increasing confidence in the fusion sector’s ability to overcome these. That confidence, resolve and clarity of purpose must be matched by governments around the world if we are to meet the challenges that climate change poses. This strategy demonstrates the UK’s commitment to meeting those challenges head on.

The realisation of fusion energy will require continued collaboration: with other nations and international organisations; with academia and technical experts; and with businesses and industry groups all around the world. So, while this paper sets out the UK’s national strategy on fusion, the UK is ready to engage with potential collaborators, from national governments to individual experts in fusion technology, to help deliver a technology that could change the face of global energy production and provide a genuinely long term solution to climate change.