I’m not one given to naive optimism, but I’ve said before I expect that nuclear fusion will be developed sooner rather than later. There are half a dozen commercially funded efforts, not to mention public research projects and, contrary to popular belief, they are actually making progress. The latest announcement is one worth keeping an eye on. MIT’s compact tokamak research made considerable strides before it was defunded in 2016. Now, in conjunction with an MIT spin-off company and $50m of investment from Italy’s ENI (yes, the oil company) they have launched their SPARC program to create a new type of high-temperature superconducting magnet within three years.
Success would mean small-scale (about one sixtieth the physical size of ITER) reactors in the 100-200 MW range, suitable for municipal applications. If the magnets work, they say its about seven years (from now) to a working 100 MW prototype reactor and twice that to commercialisation. One of the interesting things about this project is its lack of novelty – it is the same tokamak design that scientists think is the most likely route to commercial fusion, just with a smaller radius of curvature due to the stronger magnets, and a consequent ten-fold increase in power density. First wall and energy extraction issues are no different to those already in the pipeline for ITER. MIT article here.
This guy is leading the new spin-off company, though the vid is from early 2016 before MIT’s previous effort ended:
I should mention that Tokamak Energy in the UK has a similar program for compact tokamak fusion using HTS magnets, and have obtained a number of patents. Their timeline is similar if not even more aggressive. They also grew out of a publicly funded research environment, at JET. As of now, they are not as well funded as the MIT spin-off.