[This post has been edited to reflect that the legislation passed the House of Representatives on Thursday, September 24]
On Thursday, September 24, the House of Representatives voted this week on passage of H.R. 4447, the Clean Economy Jobs and Innovation Act. Representatives Lamb and Trahan sponsored and passed an amendment on Fusion Energy Research that directs the fusion energy program towards a clean energy mission, working at home and abroad in partnership between the public and private sectors.
Energy from fusion will provide clean power for everyone that's safe, affordable, and limitless. Fusion will be a new source of clean energy that will meet our growing energy demands and combat climate change. The U.S. could be in position to lead this new industry if it can combine its resources, both public and private, to demonstrate and commercialize fusion energy. This amendment will allow private fusion companies, members of the Fusion Industry Association, to work together with universities, national labs, and government researchers to renew U.S. leadership toward a cleaner, safer, and more reliable future. A fusion energy sector will create new supporting companies, new high-tech jobs, and a catalyze a new industry here in the U.S.
· The U.S. government has invested approximately $29 billion in fusion science and technology over the past 50 years that has led to significant progress.
· The private sector’s investment in fusion energy is rapidly growing and currently more than $2 billion with a focus on bringing fusion energy to market.
· Fusion offers a clean, reliable, safe, and secure source of energy for the nation and the world. It produces no greenhouse gases or long-lived high-level waste. When commercialized, it will accelerate the transformation of America’s energy system, providing the foundation for the zero-carbon energy economy of the future.
1. It directs the Department of Energy to carry out a fusion energy sciences research and development program with an energy mission, providing a goal of building a cost competitive fusion power plant and to establish a competitive fusion power industry in the United States.
2. It authorizes new Department of Energy research programs in Inertial Fusion Energy and Alternative Concepts, potentially finding new attractive pathways towards fusion power.
3. It reauthorizes the INFUSE program, a 2-year which has successfully created new public-private partnerships between national labs and leading fusion developers.
4. It creates a new milestone-based development program that would support the U.S.-based fusion power industry through the research and development of technologies that will enable the construction of new full-scale fusion systems.
5. It maintains U.S. participation in ITER, the global collaboration that is building a scientific research facility in the South of France.
Details on the Proposed Milestone-based Public-Private Partnership
This amendment would create a new opportunity for the federal government and the private sector to work together to make fusion energy a reality by building integrated fusion systems. Through this program, the public and the private sectors would work together and take advantage of each other’s unique strengths.
DOE and its national labs provide unquestionable knowledge and technical capabilities that have been proven throughout the years and are recognized globally as the leaders in R&D.
The growing number of companies in the private fusion sector has the ability to innovate and efficiently take ideas from the lab to the marketplace. They fully understand that not only must the technology work, it must also meet the market requirements for quality and costs.
The principles of the program would be limited government investment and limited exposure to downside risk, fixed-price milestones, preserving industry intellectual property, and minimizing government requirements to allow for innovation.
If private sector doesn’t get it done, then public funding will not flow.
The partnership agreements would include certain milestones to be completed by the private sector partners. Government payments under the partnership would be made only upon completion of agreed-upon milestones. The private sector partners would be responsible for all costs until milestones are achieved and verified by the DOE expert review teams.
The private sector partners would be responsible for all cost and schedule overruns. DOE would also have the option to terminate the partnership agreement in the event the agreed-upon milestones are not met. This approach will maximize industry’s incentive to minimize costs and schedule delays, unlike traditional government programs.
This model of funding has been successfully demonstrated in the past. NASA took this approach under its Commercial Orbital Transportation Systems (COTS) program. This program resulted in a 10x reduction in development costs for a space launch vehicle, a 2.5x reduction in NASA management costs, and 2-3x reduction in cost per kg reduction of putting cargo in space. Ultimately, the program enabled the success of SpaceX.
The amendment would authorize $450 million over 5 years for the partnership program to build these fusion demonstration facilities. It would be highly leveraged by a match of at least $450 million from private industry. The nation would experience at least a doubling of its research investment given industry’s contribution.
The Fusion Industry Association has been advocating for a new Milestone-based public private partnership since 2018. Further background, support, and details are available at: https://www.fusionindustryassociation.org/post/building-a-cost-share-program-for-fusion-power