On June 13, alongside representatives from the U.S. Department of Energy, Helion Energy, US ITER Project Office, and General Atomics, FIA CEO Andrew Holland testified at a Congressional hearing on “From Theory to Reality: The Limitless Potential of Fusion Energy“, hosted by the Energy Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. A main theme from the hearing: the general consensus to increase support for accelerated fusion commercialization, a feat that will unlock “limitless potential” for energy, climate, and economic benefits.
The hearing began with an opening statement delivered by Energy Subcommittee Chairman Brandon Williams. A former skeptic of fusion energy, Chairman Williams highlighted his most recent interactions with the fusion industry, which left a profound impact on his assessment of fusion’s potential. “Commercial fusion is an engineering challenge similar to putting a man on the Moon. It’s an economic opportunity even greater than the California Gold Rush of 1849. And it’s a legislative opportunity more consequential to our nation as was the Louisiana Purchase or the Marshall Plan,” Chairman Williams asserted. “As I have met with and evaluated the technology of private fusion companies over the last several months, I have become much more hopeful that fusion on the grid may be possible before the end of the decade.” (Read Congressman Williams’ op-ed in The Hill, published after the hearing: “Our fusion moment has arrived. We can’t afford to let it pass.“) Congressman Bowman, Ranking Member of the Energy Subcommittee, substantiated this powerful opening statement by adding that “it is no surprise why this clean energy source is attractive. The material used as fuel is practically infinitely abundant; it is safe and it is clean; it does not produce any greenhouse gas emissions or other forms of pollution. So fusion energy would be a real game changer for humanity.”
Congressman Lucas, Chair of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, promised continued robust funding for fusion as it “holds great promise for our energy independence, global competitiveness, and environmental stewardship.” Importantly, Congresswoman Lofgren, Ranking Member of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, pointed out that government support for fusion commercialization is not only strongly bipartisan, but bicameral. She further spoke to the urgency of resolving the remaining challenges of fusion: “as stated so clearly in the recent long-range plan developed by DOE’s fusion energy science advisory committee, now is the time to move aggressively towards the deployment of fusion energy. Or to put it another way: If not now, when?”
Each of the five witnesses were given five minutes to present their testimony (all linked below), followed by Q&A by Members. Witnesses included:
- Dr. Kathryn McCarthy, Director, U.S. ITER Project Office
- Dr. David Kirtley, CEO, Helion Energy
- Dr. Wayne Solomon, Vice President, Magnetic Fusion Energy, General Atomics
- Mr. Andrew Holland, CEO, Fusion Industry Association
- Dr. Scott Hsu, Senior Advisor and Lead Fusion Coordinator, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)
“When fusion power plants are widely available we’ll be able to bring clean, safe, sustainable energy to areas of the world that have been left behind,” Holland remarked in his testimony on the behalf of FIA’s 38 member companies. “And the link between energy and national security has never been clearer.” Holland then noted that many countries are setting ambitious goals and investing heavy resources to reach fusion commercialization. Therefore “the question is not when, but where.” Within the bold decadal vision for fusion energy, Holland emphasized that public-private partnerships will accelerate the process by “using public dollars to drive private investment in a pay-for-performance program, leading to fusion pilot plants.” The recent Milestone-Based Fusion Development Program is the latest step.
The optimism in the private sector has never been higher. Dr. David Kirtley commented: “It’s fair to say that I see the outlook for commercial fusion and the entire planet much more optimistically than I once did. Now I believe fusion will be on the grid within a decade, and we have the potential to build a fusion power plant per day if we plan our policies right. Today, I hope to leave you with that same belief.” Recently, Helion Energy signed a contract with Microsoft to deliver electricity from fusion by 2028.
Dr. Scott Hsu commented on DOE’s commitment to support the private fusion industry: “Our key objective is to partner with the private sector to resolve the largest remaining scientific and technological challenges this decade, with the ambition to realize operating fusion pilot plants early in the next decade. If we are successful, fusion could contribute to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050 while enabling energy security, energy abundance, and strengthened U.S. technological leadership.”
The notion was shared by Dr. Solomon. General Atomics currently operates the largest functioning fusion device in the U.S., DIII-D, with over 600 users from around the world. “We also recognize the crucial role of the public program in getting fusion to where it is now, and believe it will be even more essential to robustly fund public programs and facilities into the future. I want to express my gratitude to the committee for its leadership in advancing fusion. The President’s FY 24 budget request of over one billion dollars reflects your hard work and insight. However, achieving the goals of the bold decadal vision require even greater and sustained investments,” said Dr. Solomon.
Dr. McCarthy addressed U.S. involvement in the ITER project. “As a research facility, ITER will offer tools and expertise at the scale of a specialized Department of Energy Laboratory and will be a valuable test facility. For a path to fusion energy, not just fusion science, it will be essential to master both the science and technology required. ITER offers that opportunity plus access to ITER intellectual property and to a one-of-a-kind scientific facility for research on high power plasmas,” said Dr. McCarthy. U.S. involvement in ITER has been a driving force for the growth of the fusion industry and global supply chain, and has provided a base of scientific advances.
The witnesses also responded to pressing questions regarding the status and future of the U.S. fusion industry. When asked about the challenges lying ahead before fusion energy at scale becomes reality, Holland reiterated that “fusion is hard.” A decadal vision does not make the delivery of power generation from fusion easy. Helping with this, the approaches are diverse; each of the 38 members of FIA have a different pathway forward. Aside from technological challenges, Holland insisted on the importance of capital, resources, and a united public will and interest. Dr. Scott Hsu maintained the same position as Holland: “the many recent fusion scientific and technological advances suggest that practical fusion energy may now be less a matter of time than that of collective societal will.”
Holland also touched upon China’s aggressive fusion goals and the significance of having a standalone fusion energy applied program. When Congresswoman Deborah Ross echoed concerns about China’s ambitions, Holland highlighted the recent fusion activities in China and advocated for growing public-private partnerships and investments to develop a robust fusion manufacturing industry to ensure the United States’ leading role. When Congressman Fleischmann, Co-Chair of the bipartisan Fusion Energy Caucus, critically asked about the current DOE Office of Science placement for fusion, Holland noted the upcoming importance of establishing an independent fusion energy applied program, which will be essential as fusion further matures into a commercial industry.