Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) published a memorandum on inertial fusion energy (IFE) in May 2023. An expert panel of scientists, led by Prof. Dr Constantin Haefner and including fusion science leaders from Germany and the US, analyzed the status of fusion energy, its position in Germany, and its unparalleled potential in the global clean energy transition. In their report, they give high level recommendations, listed below, to ensure Germany’s position as a world leader in fusion development. The report states that “fusion energy is in the national interest: pursuing both an IFE and an MFE program is essential,” underlining the strategic need for public programs to diversify their technology approaches and explore all viable pathways to fusion commercialization.
Furthermore, the memorandum notes fusion’s attractiveness as an energy source given Europe’s Fit for 55 Pact signed in 2019, aiming to become the first climate neutral continent by 2050. The pact requires the European Union to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% compared to 1990 levels. In Germany specifically, there are commitments to become climate neutral by 2045 and to reduce emissions by 65% by 2035 compared to 1990. The report highlights fusion’s potential to maintain net zero levels, once achieved.
Among other recommendations listed below, the report urges establishing public-private partnerships, supporting German industry, driving international collaboration, and stresses the urgency of moving now.
Establish public-private partnerships
“Finding: As investments in both the private and public sector for fusion are ramping up, significant opportunity exists to create appropriate and well thought-out public-private partnerships (PPP) that are mutually beneficial and can accelerate the development and commercialization of IFE.
Recommendation: Germany should facilitate PPP structures and programs that enable an environment where both public and private ventures can support each other, and enable both to be competitive with the global ecosystem.”
Support German industry
“Finding: Currently, several industries lack the capacity to support the construction of multiple laser-driven IFE power plants. These industries include the production of large laser amplifier glass, manufacturing of pump laser diodes, and fabrication of large aperture precision optics. Additionally, certain industries such as IFE target manufacturing do not exist yet.
Recommendation: Establish a robust supply chain and skilled workforce to facilitate the delivery of fusion technology and enable German industry to thrive in a future global fusion market. Create a fusion industry that sets global standards and can export fusion technology worldwide in the coming decades.”
Establish international collaborations
“Finding: Challenges in fusion energy are significant and multifaceted, and Germany need not try to solve all of them on its own.
Recommendation: Use international collaborations to reduce the risk and cost of a German fusion program while protecting German intellectual property and competitive advantages.”
Urgency to move now
“Finding: IFE is a burgeoning field, has enormous potential, and is essential to a future diversified energy portfolio. It promotes high-tech innovations in areas in which Germany has unique competencies. Numerous countries worldwide are taking action to develop IFE technology and claim the intellectual property essential to serving the growing global energy market.
Recommendation: Germany needs a robust, aggressive IFE program with a sustained and critical mass of funding to enable the country to get a foothold in the field. The pursuit of both an applied research and technology program and a supporting basic science program is of the utmost importance as the race for fusion energy unfolds worldwide. Germany should strive to be a leader in laser fusion energy and enabling technologies and a strategic partner for its allies in these fields.”
Full list of the memorandum’s high-level recommendations:
- 2.1 Fusion energy is in the national interest: pursuing both an IFE and an MFE program is essential
- 2.2 Urgency to move now
- 2.3 Building trust for fusion energy
- 2.4 Need for establishing competency-based fusion hubs
- 2.5 Focus needed for establishing successful leadership in IFE
- 2.6 Evaluating and prioritization of IFE concepts
- 2.7 Develop an integrated system
- 2.8 Establish public private partnerships
- 2.9 Establish international collaborations
- 2.10 Strategize on IFE implosion facility
- 2.11 Maintain IFE approaches until assessment studies are done
- 2.12 Assess IFE programs for accountability
- 2.13 Build and maintain german competencies
- 2.14 Development of an IFE curriculum is needed
- 2.15 Need for a high brilliance, pulsed fusion neutron source
- 2.16 Support German industry
- Prof. Dr Constantin Leon Haefner: Head of the BMBF Inertial Fusion Energy Expert Panel; Commissary for Fusion Energy, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft; Head of Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology; Ordinarius, Chair for Laser Technology, RWTH Aachen
- Neil Alexander, PhD: Director Inertial Fusion Energy at General Atomics, US
- Prof. Riccardo Betti, PhD: Chief Scientist, Laboratory for Laser Energetics; RL McCrory Professor, Depts. Mechanical Engineering and Physics, University of Rochester, US
- Omar Hurricane, PhD: Chief scientist of the Inertial Confinement Fusion Program; Distinguished Member of the Technical Staff, Design Physics (DP) Division; Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory LLNL
- Tammy Ma, PhD: Program Element Leader for High-Intensity Laser HED Science, Advanced Photon Technologies; Lead, Inertial Fusion Energy (IFE) Institutional Initiative; Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory LLNL
- Prof. Dr. Robert Stieglitz: Head Institute for Neutron Physics and Re- actor Technology (INR); Chair Institute for Applied Thermofluidics (IATF); Director Frederic Joliot-Otto Hahn School (CEA-KIT); Karlsruher Institute of Technology (KIT)
- Prof. Dr. Hartmut Zohm: Director at Max-Planck Institute, Max-Planck Institute for Plasmaphysics; Honorary Professor at Ludwig-Maximilian University Munich