The USA's Colorado State University (CSU) and German laser fusion developer Marvel Fusion have established a public-private partnership to support construction of a $150m high-power laser and fusion research facility at Fort Collins on the CSU Foothills Campus. The facility is expected to become an international epicenter for research into inertial fusion energy, lasers and photonics, and high energy density physics under the partnership. CSU said that, pending finalisation of the financial details by the CSU System Board of Governors, the partnership will establish Fort Collins as a nexus for laser fusion research and deliver significant positive impacts to Colorado.

CSU President Amy Parsons said CSU has been at the forefront of laser research for many years. “The project aims to open up new avenues of research and exploration for students and faculty, and drive meaningful, long-term benefits to Fort Collins and the state,” she noted. Marvel Fusion is a private company working to commercialise fusion energy through its laser technology. The new facility is intended to serve as a platform to advance the company’s fusion approach.

Moritz von der Linden, CEO of Marvel Fusion said the public-private partnership “is an incredible step forward for Marvel Fusion and a testament to our success and vision”. He added: “Working with the world-class team at CSU over the past two years has been invaluably productive. We are immensely grateful for the trust and support of CSU, the State of Colorado, and the US Department of Energy’s ongoing support through the LaserNetUS programme.”

CSU is a member of LaserNetUS, which is funded by the DOE’s Office of Fusion Energy Sciences. LaserNetUS works to ensure North America has a strong network of capable laser research facilities and provides access for research groups including US National Laboratories, universities, and private industry. DOE recently announced $12.5m in additional funding to CSU for laser upgrade prototyping and increased LaserNetUS support.

The new facility is targeted for completion in 2026 and is planned to feature at least three laser systems, each with a multi-petawatt peak power and an ultra-fast repetition rate of ten flashes per second. Such a combination of lasers would make the facility unique in the world. The flagship facility will be designed to accommodate expansion and additional lasers in the future. The initially selected site for the new laser facility is near CSU’s existing Advanced Beam Laboratory, built in 2013, on the CSU Foothills Campus.

“This is an exciting opportunity for laser-based science, a dream facility for discovery and advanced technology development with great potential for societal impact,” said Jorge Rocca, Director of CSU’s Laboratory for Advanced Lasers & Extreme Photonics and a University Distinguished Professor in the Departments of Electrical & Computer Engineering & Physics at CSU.

In parallel to the Colorado partnership programme, Marvel Fusion is planning construction of a prototype as the next step towards a commercial fusion power plant. The prototype will house hundreds of laser systems capable of achieving fusion ignition and proving the technology at scale.

Marvel's fusion technology involves an ultrashort laser pulse interacting with small fuel pellets in a target structure with high intensity. The rapid deposition of laser energy triggers the fusion of the fuel's nuclei before the target structure can disassemble. To achieve sufficient scale for commercial operation, fuel pellets must be irradiated and ignited several times per second. An injector pushes a new pellet into the target chamber, where it is hit by the incoming laser pulse and releases energy during the fusion process.

Supplementary systems will then convert the released energy into electricity. Marvel says that, by adjusting the rate of pellet injections and corresponding laser pulses per second, its fusion power plant can adjust the overall energy output to market demand.

While Marvel Fusion has established a subsidiary in Colorado to support this collaboration, its headquarters are in Munich, Germany. Ongoing scientific and technological initiatives in Europe, including experiments at Ludwig-Maximilian-University Munich’s CALA laser and the ELI-NP laser in Romania, will continue to play a vital role in Marvel Fusion’s research and development work.

Image: High-density laser-created plasma physics research is conducted at CSU’s Laboratory for Advanced Lasers & Extreme Photonics (courtesy of CSU Photography)