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Where Are They Now? General Fusion gets closer to the sun

Michael Delage, the vice president of strategy and corporate development for General Fusion, checks out one of the two plasma injectors the company has built as a component of its development of nuclear fusion electricity. - MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER
Michael Delage, the vice president of strategy and corporate development for General Fusion, checks out one of the two plasma injectors the company has built as a component of its development of nuclear fusion electricity.
— image credit: MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER

Five years ago Michel Laberge was a mad scientist with a dream of holding the power of the sun in his hands.

Today he leads a team of 65 people, many of them top physicists and scientists from around the world, all pursuing the same seemingly impossible dream, to build the first prototype nuclear fusion reactor. If they're successful, nuclear fusion could be the answer to the world's energy problems, providing a perpetual source of cheap power with no greenhouse gases, no radioactive waste that lasts for 10,000 years.

They've all been attracted to the nondescript industrial complex near Lougheed Highway by the chance to profoundly change the world. And by the injection of $45 million in private venture capital and another $10 million in government funding.

General Fusion now occupies three units in the complex, and its signage has been upgraded from a yellow Post-It note stuck to the front door to an actual logo painted on the glass, but it's otherwise hard to tell potentially world-changing work is going on behind the blue and grey concrete and steel siding facade.

"We spend our money on technology and people," said Michael Delage, the vice president of strategy and corporate development for General Fusion. "At this stage the most important thing is to be able to advance the technology."

And advancing it is.

From a handful of scaled-down components scattered on the concrete warehouse floor, the team has progressed to two small working prototypes of plasma injectors and a fully-functional piston compression system that consists of dozens of giant pistons jutting from a central core.

Small is a relative term. The injectors are as big as a living room and the array of pistons tower over a visitor. A full-size prototype fusion reactor would require a facility covering at least 100,000 square feet and many stories tall, said Delage.

The team has also earned the attention and respect of the scientific community.

"Lots of people think I'm nuts," said Laberge five years ago. Now he's jetting to fusion conferences in Monaco, been invited to speak to international research groups, present at the World Energy Congress.

"The scientific credibility is critical," said Delage. "We get a lot of attention."

Some of that attention has come from big-money investors like Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, and Cenovus, a Canadian energy company.

"There's a huge potential return if you can be the first to deliver fusion energy to the world," said Delage. "You have to have the kinds of investors who are willing to move with the ups and downs as you go."

Every day the team of physicists and scientists conduct computer simulations and test runs of the working components to hone their design and performance. When all those parts are optimized, they'll be able to proceed with construction of a prototype that will create fusion.

"We have to know when we build the prototype, it will work," said Delage, who hinted the next year could be pivotal for General Fusion. "This is pushing into a lot of unknown territory."

 

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