ARPA-E Fusion Programs Annual Meeting

I attended the ARPA-E Fusion Programs Annual Meeting at the Omni Parker House Hotel in Boston, MA, June 14-15, 2023. The hotel is a landmark situated in the very heart of Boston. Here is a detail of the elevator.

The meeting venue was spectacular. We were on the top floor of the Omni Parker House. The food was excellent. The service in the hotel was the best I’ve seen. If you visit Boston it is a great place to stay.

The meeting included ARPA-E GAMOW, BETHE, and OPEN 2021 grant recipients. The meeting provided a great snapshot of all the work underway, including advances by several prominent companies including Commonwealth Fusion Systems, Zap Energy, and Type One Energy. The University of Maryland presented the status of its centrifugal mirror, and the RealTa Fusion gave the latest results for its high-field mirror. Other teams gave talks on their technology. Our talk was on our work in Wide Band Semiconductors. We presented Prof. Minjie Chen’s work on RF heating with boards that adapt to the plasma. We discussed our work on boards for pulse width modulation, high current short pulses, and very high voltage converters. I was the only speaker to finish early, in 7 minutes, so I was allowed one question which was on board cooling. I presented work by Princeton University, Qorvo and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

Here are our posters. The top gives an overview and our pulse circuits. The bottom gives the work of Qorvo, Princeton University, and NREL. Our teams span the full range of technologies needed for high-performance power electronics.

Prof. Nat Fisch of PPPL gave an interesting talk on his concept for a boron proton reactor. In it, they heat only the protons, to 600 keV, and the hot protons collide with cold boron to produce fusion.

Prof. Andrew W. Lo of the MIT Sloan School gave a great talk on how to finance fusion through financial engineering. He explained the concept of present value, which is how pharmaceutical companies are valued. He suggested a fund composed of all fusion companies. A large number of modest investments would provide sufficient funding for fusion energy development. If even a couple succeeded the fund would make a lot of money. This approach spreads the risk around to a large group of people.

Prof. Lo also discussed the similarities between fusion research and drug discovery. Both involve large investments that have low probabilities of success. He talked about the work of Prof. Harvey Lodish of MIT who went on to start several biotech companies. His early work led to a therapy that saved the life of his grandchild.

Commonwealth Fusion Systems sponsored a reception after the meeting. It was another opportunity to chat with the participants. I spoke with people from ENERGY for the COMMON GOOD who are educating people on fusion technology.

On Friday we went on a tour of Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS) and the MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC).

CFS has an impressive new facility where they are building SPARC, their fusion test reactor. We saw the tokamak hall and the room where they are building their High-Temperature Superconducting magnets.

We next went to PSFC. PSFC hosted the Alcator machines that operated at 12 T and reached record plasma pressures. Alcator is being disassembled. The picture shows what remains.

They hope to replace it with a cyclotron for materials testing. Dr. Earl Marmar led our tour group.

I talked with many colleagues during the event. I’d say it was the best fusion energy event I’ve attended and I look forward to next year’s fusion meeting.