The Goal of Reducing Climate Change
The OECD advisory on climate change (Green Grown Studies) states that a multi-pronged approach is required to reduce, stop, or reverse climate change. The critical stages in the energy lifecycle that need to be addressed include:
- Energy generation
- Smart-grid technology
- Smart Manufacturing
- Smart circuits and computer chips
Of all the green / renewable sources of power, nuclear fusion has the biggest potential impact. Nuclear fusion is the holy grail of renewable green energy sources and has the potential to drastically reduce CO2 output by replacing other fossil fuels such as coal-fired electricity plants. Other potential sources of renewable power such as solar, wind, geothermal, and hydro offer benefits over non-renewable power such as coal, and oil and gas, but none have the potential to output as much clean energy as realizing commercial of nuclear fusion. However, a future global energy production system will likely include all those above mentioned sources of power to balance risk.
The great news is that while achieving viable nuclear fusion capable of supporting commercial power needs has been a long slow road, the past 10 years has seen a resurgence of developments that are hopeful and inspiring, perhaps indicating that we will see nuclear fusion in our lifetimes.
The Race for Commercial Nuclear Fusion
Nuclear fusion is fundamentally different than nuclear fission which had already reached commercial viability some 50+ years ago. Although not yet commercially viable today, nuclear fusion avoids several of the drawbacks of fission power generation, such as radioactively contaminated fuel waste, and the potential for a large-scale nuclear disaster. Nuclear fusion does not involve a nuclear chain reaction, so the reaction contains itself in the case of a disaster.
As seen in the timeline chart below nuclear fusion has seen a resurgence in patenting. Following annual USPTO patent grants for US, CPC, and International classification schemes shows a clear burst of fusion related patenting activity in the past decade that has not been seen since the 1980’s (CPC data is only available since 2013).
Nuclear fusion can be broadly broken down to two separate approaches, thermal nuclear which involves super-heating matter to very high temperatures of millions of degrees Celsius (comparable to the temperature of a star), and cold-fusion which instead uses pressure to cause the reaction. In both thermal and cold fusion, the matter releases vast amounts of energy making nuclear fusion a potentially world changing technology.
While the development of viable commercial nuclear fusion reactors has been elusive for several decades, the past few years has seen developments that are making the realization of commercial thermal nuclear power generation much more likely in the foreseeable future. Below are some data provided to visualize the past decade of patenting activity for thermal nuclear technology.
Thermal Nuclear Fusion CPC Subgroup Titles
|G/21/B/1/00/||Thermonuclear fusion reactors|
|G/21/B/1/03/||Thermonuclear fusion reactors with inertial plasma confinement|
|G/21/B/1/05/||Thermonuclear fusion reactors with magnetic or electric plasma confinement|
|G/21/B/1/52/||Thermonuclear fusion reactors with magnetic or electric plasma confinement reversed field configuration|
|G/21/B/1/13/||First wall; Blanket; Divertor|
|G/21/B/1/15/||Particle injectors for producing thermonuclear fusion reactions, e.g. pellet injectors|
|G/21/B/1/17/||Vacuum chambers; Vacuum systems|
|G/21/B/1/19/||Targets for producing thermonuclear fusion reactions, e.g. pellets for irradiation by laser or charged particle beams|
|G/21/B/1/21/||Electric power supply systems, e.g. for magnet systems, switching devices, storage devices, circuit arrangements|
|G/21/B/1/23/||Optical systems, e.g. for irradiating targets, for heating plasma or for plasma diagnostics|
Understanding The State Of The Art
A very brief summary of how thermal nuclear power works goes something like this: A source of fuel matter (deuterium and tritium, both heavy isotopes of hydrogen) is transformed into a plasma using powerful superconducting electro-magnetic coils. When the plasma is in a super-heated (100 million degrees) and closely controlled environment,the fuel particles will combine (fuse) together. This fusion of atoms releases much of its energy as fast-moving super-charged neutrons. Those neutrons can be directly captured by a liquid, which is the simplest and currently the most feasible form of power capture. Another more scientifically elusive, mostly theoretical capture process involves capturing the energy in a “blanket” of lithium surrounding the reactor core. Finally, a fission-fusion hybrid process of capture uses the supercharged neutrons to enrich a radioactive fuel source to enduce a nuclear fusion reaction.
The TOKAMAK reactor is by far the most common type of reactor in development and TOKAMAK variant development projects include MIT’s SPARC (SPARC on Wikipedia) and the world’s largest TOKAMAK project, Europe’s ITER (ITER on Wikipedia) have both gained positive net energy output and are projected to have 10x positive output in the foreseeable future.
Most recently, scientific developments in the realm of material science have created breakthrough superconducting material known as HTS Tape or High Temperature Superconducting Tape which is capable of producing and holding a high magnetic charge, while also diffusing heat at a high rate. This allows the fusion reactor’s elector-magnetic coils to operate for sustained periods of time while also producing the required magnetic charge to effectively transform fuel into plasma.
The video conference from MIT below is a good primer on the current state and challenges facing TOKAMAK reactors on the pathway to becoming commercially viable. The video discusses the overall technology of the TOKAMAK fusion reactor and the role of various physiological aspects to gaining positive power out from a thermal fusion generator.
Who Will Own Fusion Capabilities?
While patents are far from being a comprehensive indicator of which organizations will profit from implementation of fusion reactors, they do reveal who owns exclusive licensing rights to various associated technologies.
HTS Patent Grants Since 2010
|Issue Date||Patent ID||Assignee||Title|
|24/08/2021||11101059||TOKAMAK ENERGY||Quench detection in superconducting magnets|
|29/06/2021||11049633||TOKAMAK ENERGY||Central column of toroidal field coil|
|15/06/2021||11038094||QUANTALA LLC||Superconducting qubit with tapered junction wiring|
|06/04/2021||10971274||TOKAMAK ENERGY||Toroidal field coil arrangement with central column having exfoliated HTS tapes and return limbs having substrated HTS tapes|
|02/03/2021||10937561||THE TEXAS AM UNIVERSITY SYSTEM||Methods and compositions for fabrication of superconducting wire|
|23/02/2021||10930837||TOKAMAK ENERGY||HTS magnet sections|
|12/01/2021||10892397||NORTH CAROLINA STATE UNIVERSITY||Self-monitoring superconducting tape via integrated optical fibers|
|17/11/2020||10840616||TOKAMAK ENERGY||Superconducting joint using exfoliated ReBCO|
|10/11/2020||10832843||THE UNIVERSITY OF HOUSTON SYSTEM||Superconductor compositions|
|27/10/2020||10818416||THE UNIVERSITY OF HOUSTON SYSTEM||Superconductor with improved flux pinning at low temperatures|
|08/09/2020||10770639||SEOUL NATIONAL UNIVERSITY R DB FOUNDATION||Method of forming superconducting wire|
|19/05/2020||10656223||JAPAN SUPERCONDUCTOR TECHNOLOGY INC.||Magnetic field generation device|
|07/04/2020||10614932||RIKEN||High temperature superconducting multicore tape wire, and manufacturing method thereof and manufacturing device|
|31/03/2020||10607753||SUPERPOWER INC.||Superconductor article with directional flux pinning|
|31/03/2020||10607753||UNIVERSITY OF HOUSTON SYSTEM||Superconductor article with directional flux pinning|
|15/10/2019||10446294||SUPERCONDUCTOR TECHNOLOGIES INC.||Coated conductor high temperature superconductor carrying high critical current under magnetic field by intrinsic pinning centers, and methods of manufacture of same|
|17/09/2019||10418154||BRUKER HTS GMBH||Superconducting structure for connecting tape conductors, in particular having a corrugated or serrated seam|
|03/09/2019||10401393||THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AS REPRESENTED BY THE SECRETARY OF THE ARMY||Method for determining persistent critical current of superconducting materials|
|27/08/2019||10393833||BRUKER BIOSPIN GMBH||Magnet arrangement with field-shaping element for reducing the radial field component in the region of an HTS section|
|25/06/2019||10332640||TOKAMAK ENERGY||Toroidal field coil for use in a fusion reactor|
|14/08/2018||10049792||INDUSTRY-ACADEMIC COOPERATION OF YONSEI UNIVERSITY||Superconducting tape current leads|
|01/05/2018||9959956||GENERAL CABLE SUPERCONDUCTORS LIMITED||Machine for producing transposed cable|
|06/03/2018||9911910||VARIAN SEMICONDUCTOR EQUIPMENT ASSOCIATES INC.||High temperature superconductor tape with alloy metal coating|
|23/01/2018||9875826||NOVUM INDUSTRIA LLC||Field makeable cryostat/current connections for an HTS tape power cable|
|26/12/2017||9850569||VARIAN SEMICONDUCTOR EQUIPMENT ASSOCIATES INC.||Ion implantation for superconductor tape fabrication|
|17/10/2017||9793036||PARTICLE BEAM LASERS INC.||Low temperature superconductor and aligned high temperature superconductor magnetic dipole system and method for producing high magnetic fields|
|17/10/2017||9793036||BROOKHAVEN SCIENCE ASSOCIATES, LLC||Low temperature superconductor and aligned high temperature superconductor magnetic dipole system and method for producing high magnetic fields|
|19/09/2017||9767940||THE REGENTS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO, A BODY CORPORATE||Superconducting cables and methods of making the same|
|19/09/2017||9768370||VARIAN SEMICONDUCTOR EQUIPMENT ASSOCIATES INC.||Low AC loss high temperature superconductor tape|
|05/09/2017||9755329||ADVANCED CONDUCTOR TECHNOLOGIES LLC||Superconducting cable connections and methods|
|07/02/2017||9564258||SUPERCONDUCTOR TECHNOLOGIES INC.||Coated conductor high temperature superconductor carrying high critical current under magnetic field by intrinsic pinning centers, and methods of manufacture of same|
|14/04/2015||9008740||VARIAN SEMICONDUCTOR EQUIPMENT ASSOCIATES INC.||Techniques for protecting a superconducting (SC) tape|
|14/04/2015||9008741||BRUKER HTS GMBH||Superconducting structure comprising coated conductor tapes, in particular stapled perpendicularly to their substrate planes|
|31/03/2015||8993485||K.JOINS||Methods of splicing 2G rebco high temperature superconductors using partial micro-melting diffusion pressurized splicing by direct face-to-face contact of high temperature superconducting layers and recovering superconductivity by oxygenation annealing|
|17/03/2015||8983563||THEVA DUNNSCHICHTTECHNIK GMBH||High temperature superconducting tape conductor having high critical ampacity|
|20/01/2015||8938278||THE REGENTS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO||Superconducting cables and methods of making the same|
|10/06/2014||8748349||UT-BATTELLE, LLC||Buffer layers for REBCO films for use in superconducting devices|
|10/06/2014||8748349||UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE RESEARCH FOUNDATION||Buffer layers for REBCO films for use in superconducting devices|
|01/04/2014||8685166||SUNAM CO., LTD.||Apparatus for continuous fabricating superconducting tapes|
|01/04/2014||8685166||KOREA ADVANCED INSTITUTE OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY||Apparatus for continuous fabricating superconducting tapes|
|21/01/2014||8633137||KOREA ELECTROTECHNOLOGY RESEARCH INSTITUTE||High-temperature superconducting tape|
|14/01/2014||8629087||BRUKER HTS GMBH||HTS coated conductor with particle inclusions, and method of production of an HTS coated conductor|
|19/11/2013||8588876||THE FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY RESEARCH FOUNDATION INC.||Electric joint design to be used in electromagnetic coils made with high-temperature superconducting tape, aspected wire, or cable|
|10/09/2013||8530390||FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY RESEARCH FOUNDATION||Mechanical decoupling in high-temperature superconducting tapes|
|14/05/2013||8442605||NKT CABLES ULTERA A/S||Power cable comprising HTS tape(s)|
|07/05/2013||8437819||MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY||Superconductor cable|
|02/04/2013||8410781||HONG KONG APPLIED SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY RESEARCH INSTITUTE CO., LTD.||High temperature superconductor receiver coil magnetic resonance imaging systems and methods compatible with an infant incubator|
|15/01/2013||8353257||KOREA ELECTROTECHNOLOGY RESEARCH INSTITUTE||Deposition apparatus with guide roller for long superconducting tape|
|06/11/2012||8304650||NEXANS||Arrangement for current limiting|
|02/10/2012||8278249||ADEKA CORPORATION||Composition for forming thick oxide superconductor film and process for producing thick tape-shaped oxide superconductor film|
|14/08/2012||8244323||CHUBU UNIVERSITY EDUCATIONAL FOUNDATION||Superconducting tape wire material and method of manufacturing same|
|24/07/2012||8227019||SUPERPOWER INC.||High-throughput ex-situ method for rare-earth-barium-copper-oxide (REBCO) film growth|
|22/05/2012||8182862||SUPERPOWER INC.||Ion beam-assisted high-temperature superconductor (HTS) deposition for thick film tape|
|10/04/2012||8153281||SUPERPOWER INC.||Metalorganic chemical vapor deposition (MOCVD) process and apparatus to produce multi-layer high-temperature superconducting (HTS) coated tape|
|28/02/2012||8124170||METAL OXIDE TECHNOLOGIES INC||Method for forming superconductor material on a tape substrate|
|25/10/2011||8044752||AMERICAN SUPERCONDUCTOR CORPORATION||High-current, compact flexible conductors containing high temperature superconducting tapes|
|11/10/2011||8034746||KOREA ELECTROTECHNOLOGY RESEARCH INSTITUTE||Method of manufacturing round wire using superconducting tape and round wire manufactured using the superconducting tape|
|27/09/2011||8026197||KOREA ELECTROTECHNOLOGY RESEARCH INSTITUTE||Method and apparatus for manufacturing superconducting tape through integrated process|
|21/12/2010||7854057||SUPERPOWER INC.||Method of facilitating superconducting tape manufacturing|
|20/07/2010||7758699||SUPERPOWER INC.||Apparatus for and method of continuous HTS tape buffer layer deposition using large scale ion beam assisted deposition|
|18/05/2010||7718574||SUPERPOWER INC.||Biaxially-textured film deposition for superconductor coated tapes|
|30/03/2010||7687436||UNIVERSITY OF DAYTON||Flux pinning enhancements in superconductive REBa|