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Laser fusion startup Longview signs power plant design contract

13 Mar 2024

California firm set up by former NIF director Edward Moses expects power plant to be operational within a decade.

Longview Fusion Energy Systems, one of several startup companies working on laser-driven fusion, says it has agreed a deal with the construction firm Fluor to design the world's first commercial laser fusion power plant.

The two companies were already partners, having signed a memorandum of understanding around a year ago, but will now step up efforts to deliver an energy plant based on the same approach that produced fusion with energy gain at the National Ignition Facility (NIF).

"The Longview Laser Fusion Plant is expected to be operational within a decade, using proven physics and technologies," they announced.

Laser upgrade
Based in Livermore, Longview was established by former NIF director Edward Moses, and claims to be the only fusion energy company using the giant laboratory’s blueprint - albeit with much more up-to-date and efficient photonics technology than was available at the time NIF was commissioned.

“Unlike other approaches, Longview does not need to build a physics demonstration facility, and, with its partner Fluor, can focus on designing and building the world's first laser fusion energy plant to power communities and businesses,” announced the startup.

“Fluor, with expertise in the energy industry and modern modular construction methods, will design the Longview plant to ensure the delivery of carbon-free, safe, and economical laser fusion energy to the marketplace.”

Longview’s COO Valerie Roberts - previously a NIF project manager - added: “We are building on the success of the NIF, but the Longview plant will use today's far more efficient and powerful lasers, and utilize additive manufacturing and optimization through artificial intelligence.”

Headquartered in Texas, Fluor has more than a century of experience in engineering, procurement and construction services, with recent projects including a liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility in Canada, and a copper mine at the top of a mountain in Peru.

Tom D'Agostino, group president for the firm's "mission solutions" business, said in a company LinkedIn post: “Fluor is a leader in designing and building solutions to create a sustainable future and our partnership with Longview Fusion Energy Systems builds upon that experience.

"Our expertise helps clients reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve energy efficiency and deliver cleaner, decarbonized projects. We look forward to working with Longview on the mission to demonstrate the feasibility of laser fusion technology and deliver it to the commercial market.”

Laser fusion: great expectations
Moses, who oversaw the completion of the 192-beam NIF construction, predicted in a presentation at SPIE’s Optics + Photonics event in San Diego back in 2010 that a commercial laser fusion energy plant could be built by 2030 - given certain improvements to key optical technologies.

The following year, during an event held at the UK’s Royal Society, he said that the NIF team was “on the verge” of showing fusion with energy gain, and outlined how the development of cheap, very-high-power laser diodes was a key requirement for laser fusion energy to become a viable commercial technology.

Another challenge he envisaged was adapting the NIF design so that fusion with gain occurs at a rate of about 10 Hz, for example by dropping fuel pellets into the reaction chamber.

As it turned out, the highly complex interaction of energy and matter at the heart of NIF’s ignition chamber was even more challenging to model than expected, making it more difficult to refine the optical setup to the requirements for fusion with ignition - setting the project back several years, while the laboratory also shifted its priorities more towards weapons stewardship.

However, in late 2022 the NIF team did attain the goal anticipated by Moses a decade earlier - and has since repeated the feat on several occasions, using huge flashlamp-pumped Nd:glass lasers that are far less efficient than today’s best sources.

“Laser fusion energy gain has been demonstrated many times over the last 15 months, and the scientific community has verified these successes," commented Moses in Longview's announcement of the Fluor deal.

“Now is the time to focus on making this new carbon-free, safe, and abundant energy source available to the nation as soon as possible.”

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