Biden administration announces new investments in fusion energy

Deputy Energy Secretary David Turk, shown here at an April 9, 2024 meeting with Japanese government officials, just announced agency plans to increase support for fusion research.

Deputy Energy Secretary David Turk, shown here at an April 9, 2024 meeting with Japanese government officials, just announced agency plans to increase support for fusion research. Energy Dept. photo by Donica Payne

Officials unveiled new steps in the government’s fusion energy growth plan, which emphasizes public-private partnerships and the development of a fusion pilot power plant in the 2040s.

The Biden administration is looking to further U.S. fusion energy research infrastructure through a new strategy and funding opportunities that prioritize delivering more energy solutions based on that science within the coming decade.

Multiple officials from the Department of Energy and White House offices announced new initiatives building upon the federal government’s 2022 decadal strategy in a broadcast announcement on Thursday, focusing on bringing more expertise and participation into the development of fusion energy technology. 

Four new efforts –– including unveiling a new Fusion Energy Strategy 2024; an additional $180 million allocated to fund projects that contribute to the formation of a fusion pilot plant; releasing a request for information on creating a fusion energy public-private consortium; and the formation of the Milestone-Based Fusion Development Program –– mark the government’s next steps in fostering more fusion-based technology solutions.

“We've got a powerful innovation ecosystem like nowhere else in the world,” Deputy Secretary of Energy David Turk said during a press conference regarding the administration’s goal to bring public and private sector nuclear fusion research together. “And if we can work public and private, private and public with our labs, working with international partners who share our values, we can succeed where others just aren't going to be successful.” 

Fusion energy hinges on the process of nuclear fusion, the joining of two light atomic nuclei to create a single heavier nucleus. The merging of these two atoms generates energy and occurs in specific environments with high temperatures. Nuclear fusion emerged as a potentially viable alternative to current carbon-emitting energy sources following a successful experiment where researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory achieved fusion ignition in 2022

Given this breakthrough, the Biden administration has taken multiple steps to continue to scale fusion energy research and development. Turk said that the new Fusion Energy Strategy 2024 includes industry perspectives and feedback on successfully growing the U.S. fusion energy ecosystem and will aim to guide commercially-relevant work in fusion energy sciences, particularly surrounding the formation of a fusion pilot power plant. 

The administration also made $180 million available as part of the Fusion Innovation Research Engine, or FIRE, Collaboratives. This opportunity aims to spur the fusion pilot plant’s emphasis on commercialization and further support foundational research within nuclear fusion. 

In a separate RFI, the Biden administration is soliciting feedback on a consortium composed of public- and private-sector experts on fusion energy. This consortium will ideally bring stakeholders across multiple sectors into the discussion on commercializing and scaling fusion energy technologies. 

Administration officials also confirmed that eight companies have signed up as members of the Milestone-Based Fusion Development Program. The program offers up to $46 million for public-private partnerships to advance fusion energy pilot plants. The eight companies include Commonwealth Fusion Systems; Focused Energy; Thea Energy; Realta Fusion; Tokamak Energy; Type One Energy Group; Xcimer Energy; and Zap Energy.

The Department of Energy has emphasized fusion research as a priority item since 2022. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm highlighted the importance of research in fusion energy and other emerging technologies as both a remedy to climate change and national security concerns in May 2023.

Members from academia were a key feature in the announcement of new federal investments in fusion energy research. Saskia Mordijck, a physics professor at the College of William and Mary and the president of the University Fusion Association, noted that research at a university level and international collaborations are key elements to logistical issues like supply chain formation and sharing facilities.

“Knowledge is key. And so there are going to be countries that have certain facilities and we have other facilities, and being able to do that exchange of personnel, exchange of knowledge [to] build that community is going to be crucial going forward,” she said during the conference. “It's all about humanity and the knowledge of humanity and working together to get there.”