Italian energy group Eni is considering stepping up its investment in nuclear fusion, Reuters reported on 13 April. Eni in March committed €50m ($62m) Commonwealth Fusion System, a firm set up by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Eni’s head of development operations and technology, Roberto Casula, estimates it will cost $3bn to develop a 200MW fusion reactor by 2033 and says Commonwealth Fusion System is looking to raise more funds. Casula noted Eni had signed a deal giving it the right to use the project’s intellectual property. “The eventual stake we’ll have in the company will be decided when there is an overall investment agreement, also depending on how much they will raise,” Casula said.
The MIT project is competing with the France-based International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project, which is more than halfway towards first plasma by 2025. However, ITER does not plan to generate electricity, saying this will be done in future. “Based on our experience with the ITER project, we feel the MIT timeline to have a [fusion] power plant in 15 years is very ambitious,” ITER chief scientist Tim Luce said. “But if they succeed, we will celebrate their success.”
Meanwhile, Italy’s National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development (ENEA) has announced that its research centre in Frascati will host the €500m Divertor Tokamak Test Facility (DTT), which will support research for ITER. The DTT, which will take seven years to complete, is intended to tackle some key challenges posed by fusion such as managing the power flows produced by plasma fuel and testing new materials capable of withstanding extremely high temperatures.
The divertor at ITER is made from tungsten tiles. However, this material is not suitable for a demonstration fusion power plant that would feed electricity to the grid continuously. The DTT will investigate alternatives types of divertor. The project is funded by €60m from Eurofusion, a consortium of European research organisations, with a further €80m from the Italian government. The Lazio regional government will contribute €25m, China €30m and ENEA partners €50m. The remaining €250m will come from a European Investment Bank loan.