March 9 (UPI) — Italian energy company Eni said Thursday it made preliminary arrangements with an offshoot of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to accelerate the rollout of industrial-scale fusion, a near-limitless form of energy.
Eni said it would work with Commonwealth Fusion Systems, which spun out of MIT, to examine what is said to be the strongest magnet in the world that can contain and control the super-hot plasma that results from the fusion process.
Unlike fission, which breaks apart atoms to generate power, fusion involves the combination of two light atomic nuclei to form a heavier one, which releases energy in the process.
Eni said magnets tested by CFS in 2021 show it has “the fastest pathway” to bringing fusion energy to an industrial scale.
“Having this technology at the industrial level, providing large quantities of zero carbon energy produced in a safe, clean and virtually inexhaustible way, will mean that we will contribute substantially to the energy transition challenge,” Claudio Descalzi, the CEO at Eni, said. “This is why we are facing a potentially momentous technological breakthrough.”
Fusion is advancing from the first experiments in the 1950s. The U.S. Department of Energy in December said that scientists conducted the first controlled fusion experiment in history that achieved a net energy gain.
“Simply put, this is one of the most impressive scientific feats of the 21st century,” U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said.
The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory delivered 2.05 megajoules of energy to a target, resulting in 3.15 MJ of fusion energy output, demonstrating for the first time a most fundamental science basis for inertial fusion energy, a separate avenue for fusion.
The British government, for its part, announced in October that it selected the West Burton A plant in Nottinghamshire, southeast of Leeds, as the site for its prototype fusion energy plant, which could be completed by 2040.
Eni said a pilot facility for magnetic confinement fusion could be operational within the next two years.
“The collaboration framework between CFS and our long-standing partner, Eni, has great potential to advance our efforts on key global challenges and opportunities in transforming the energy landscape with a limitless supply of clean fusion energy,” said CFS CEO Bob Mumgaard.
Eni began work with the company in 2018.