A spin-out from MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center, Commonwealth is following a well-trodden design path by using a tokamak—a doughnut-shaped device in which radio waves heat isotopes of hydrogen to above 100 million °C (180 million °F). The resulting plasma is squeezed by a powerful magnetic field until the atoms fuse, releasing a burst of energetic electrons and neutrons.
What sets Commonwealth apart is the compact size of its tokamak. Its prototype SPARC reactor will be 40 times smaller than the international ITER fusion reactor currently being built in France and could come online five years earlier.
- Industry: Fusion energy
- Founded: 2018
- Headquarters: Devens, Massachusetts, USA
- Notable fact: Commonwealth’s prototype reactor will use 10,000 kilometers (about 6,200 miles) of high-temperature superconductor tape.
Potential for impact
“Electrify everything!” cry climate experts. Electric motors, cars, and heat pumps are inherently more efficient than their oil- and gas-burning brethren. But to get to net zero, the world will need a lot more fossil-fuel-free power stations to produce enough renewable electricity for these systems. Commonwealth’s fusion plants will turn heat from fusion reactions into steam that turns turbines to produce power without generating harmful emissions.
It’s a sci-fi dream shared by dozens of other startups. Some are following Commonwealth’s footsteps with their own tokamaks, but there are also other promising approaches. Pulsed fusion reactors embrace the instability of fusion reactions and can be made even smaller than tokamaks. At least one of these companies, the well-funded Helion Energy in Everett, Washington, claims it will generate electricity directly from the fusing plasma and hopes to be selling electrons to customers by 2028.
Should Commonwealth (or one of its rivals) succeed, fusion might fulfill the long-promised dream of consistent, carbon-free power with virtually no radioactive waste.
#Climate #Tech #Companies #Watch #Commonwealth #compact #tokamak