US-based fusion technology company Type One Energy Group plans to locate to the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) Bull Run Fossil Plant in Clinton, Tennessee to build a stellarator fusion prototype machine in collaboration with TVA and the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). TVA's Bull Run Fossil Plant closed on 1 December 2023.Type One says construction of the prototype, Infinity One, could begin in 2025, following the completion of necessary environmental reviews, partnership agreements, required permits, and operating licences.

“Successful deployment of Infinity One in East Tennessee, with our partners TVA and ORNL, is a critical milestone in our FusionDirect commercialisation programme,” says Type One Energy CEO Christofer Mowry. “It is also a watershed moment toward the commercialisation of fusion, linking for the first time leaders in the technology, utility, and national laboratory sectors on an actual deployment project. Project Infinity will create the world’s highest performance stellarator, offering an excellent platform for a potential long-term fusion research facility.”

Type One Energy was founded in 2019. Its science team includes some highly experienced fusion experts:

  • Chief Technology Officer, Danish-born Dr Thomas Sunn Pedersen, designed and built a simple stellarator, the Columbia Non-neutral Torus, at Columbia University, before moving in 2011 to the Greifswald branch of the Max-Planck Institute of Plasma Physics in Germany Director of the Stellarator Edge and Divertor Physics Division. He was Technical Director at the Wendelstein W7-X stellarator.
  • Chief Science Officer Dr John Canik was fusion leader at ORNL where he served as Group Leader for Theory and Modelling from 2014 until 2019. Before that, at the University of Wisconsin (UW) he undertook research on the Helically Symmetric Experiment (HSX) stellarator.
  • Vice President (VP) for Systems Engineering Professor Dr David Anderson designed & built the HSX. He retired from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in December 2022. In 1990, he had worked at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics in Germany, developing the design for the HSX.
  • VP & Chief Engineer Bradley Nelson served as Chief Engineer at US ITER Project at ORNL.
  • VP for Stellarator Optimisation Dr Chris Hegna was director of UW–Madison’s Centre for Plasma Theory & Computation. He was involved in the research activities of the University's three magnetic confinement experiments, the Pegasus Toroidal Experiment, the HSX Plasma Laboratory and the Madison Symmetric Torus (MST).

Project Infinity is the result of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed in 2023 between TVA, Type One Energy and ORNL, which recognised that fusion has the potential to become an attractive carbon-free power generation technology. The MOU expressed an interest in the successful development and commercialisation of economic and practical fusion energy technologies. The construction of Infinity One at Bull Run aligns with Tennessee Governor Bill Lee’s vision to position the state as a national leader in clean energy, and Project Infinity is the first recipient of funds from the Governor’s Nuclear Energy Fund. Tennessee’s nuclear energy fund was approved in the 2023-2024 budget and earmarks $50m to support nuclear development and manufacturing in the state.

Infinity One will allow Type One Energy to verify important design features of its high field stellarator fusion pilot plant, particularly those related to operating efficiency, reliability, maintainability, and affordability. Type One Energy will establish its headquarters in East Tennessee, creating over 300 high-paying jobs within the next five years. Project Infinity includes the deployment of Infinity One and Type One Energy’s new headquarters and is expected to bolster economic growth and energy technological leadership in the region.

“TVA is working with our partners to pursue new ideas and innovative solutions that meet growing energy demand in real-world conditions,” said TVA President & CEO Jeff Lyash. “We appreciate this partnership between Type One Energy, ORNL, our local power companies and elected and economic development officials as we work together to identify energy technologies for the future.”

ORNL Director Stephen Streiffer noted: “It’s exciting to see a project in Oak Ridge with such great potential to advance fusion energy. The laboratory has been a pioneer in fusion science and technology dating back to the early 1950s. We look forward to applying our institutional expertise and capabilities in working with Type One Energy on the engineering challenges they will be tackling at this new test facility.”

"This is incredibly symbolic," Christofer Mowry told Knox News. "It is the first time that a fusion company is actually partnering with an electric utility, like TVA, and also, frankly, a national laboratory in this way. This is really linking the technology to the end market and I think that in this sense, it really is a watershed moment for fusion."

The stellarator concept was invented by Lyman Spitzer at Princeton University in 1951.Much of the early development of stellarators in the 1950s occurred at a laboratory that is now DOE’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. Stellarators use external coils to generate a twisting magnetic field to control the plasma instead of inducing electric currents inside the plasma like a tokamak.

Making stellarator coils is a challenge because it requires manufacturers to construct large bore wire coils with millimetre precision. Stellarator designs have become more advanced in the last two decades using supercomputers to calculate their precise shape. Part of Type One Energy's partnership with ORNL may include using its supercomputer, Summit, to run complex models.

Image: Type One Energy's stellarator fusion concept (courtesy of Type One Energy Group)