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Prototype fusion reactor planned for TVA site

23 February 2024

US fusion energy developer Type One Energy Group has announced plans to build Infinity One – its stellarator fusion prototype machine – at Tennessee Valley Authority’s Bull Run Fossil Plant in Clinton, Tennessee.

The Bull Run Fossil Plant in Tennessee (Image: TVA)

The company – currently based in Madison, Wisconsin – will establish its headquarters in East Tennessee as part of Project Infinity. The project is the result of a tri-party memorandum of understanding signed in 2023 between Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), Type One Energy and the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), in which the partners expressed an interest in the successful development and commercialisation of economic and practical fusion energy technologies.

Type One Energy said the construction of Infinity One at Bull Run “aligns with Tennessee Governor Bill Lee’s vision to position the state as a national leader in clean energy, and Project Infinity is the first recipient of funds from the Governor’s Nuclear Energy Fund”.

The company will begin engaging and collaborating with local communities in East Tennessee during the upcoming months.

The construction of Infinity One could begin in 2025, following the completion of necessary environmental reviews, partnership agreements, required permits, and operating licenses, Type One Energy noted. It will allow the company to verify important design features of its high field stellarator fusion pilot plant, particularly those related to operating efficiency, reliability, maintainability, and affordability.

In partnership with TVA and ORNL, Type One Energy will explore subsequent opportunities to further advance commercial deployment of fusion energy in the East Tennessee region.

Type One Energy will establish its headquarters in East Tennessee, creating over 300 high-paying jobs within the next five years. Project Infinity, which includes the deployment of Infinity One and Type One Energy’s new headquarters, is expected to bolster economic growth and energy technological leadership in the region.

Type One Energy’s concept for a stellarator fusion reactor (Image: Type One Energy)

“Successful deployment of Infinity One in East Tennessee, with our partners TVA and ORNL, is a critical milestone in our FusionDirect commercialisation programme,” said Type One Energy CEO Christofer Mowry. “It is also a watershed moment toward the commercialisation of fusion, linking for the first time leaders in the technology, utility, and national laboratory sectors on an actual deployment project. Project Infinity will create the world’s highest performance stellarator, offering an excellent platform for a potential long-term fusion research facility.”

Bull Run Fossil Plant is located on the north bank of Bull Run Creek, directly across the Clinch River from Oak Ridge. The 865 MW coal-fired power plant entered operation in 1967 and was retired on 1 December 2023. TVA says it is “currently evaluating the future use of the Bull Run site, including potential opportunities to maintain grid stability based on its strategic geographic location in the TVA service territory”.

“TVA is working with our partners to pursue new ideas and innovative solutions that meet growing energy demand in real-world conditions,” said TVA President and CEO Jeff Lyash. “We appreciate this partnership between Type One Energy, ORNL, our local power companies and elected and economic development officials as we work together to identify energy technologies for the future.”

ORNL Director Stephen Streiffer added: “It’s exciting to see a project in Oak Ridge with such great potential to advance fusion energy. The laboratory has been a pioneer in fusion science and technology dating back to the early 1950s. We look forward to applying our institutional expertise and capabilities in working with Type One Energy on the engineering challenges they will be tackling at this new test facility.”

“Our administration created the Nuclear Energy Fund in partnership with the Tennessee General Assembly to recruit companies like Type One Energy,” said Tennessee Governor Bill Lee. “Tennessee is ready to secure its place as the top state for energy independence, and we are proud to partner with Type One Energy to further that mission and bring hundreds of high-quality jobs and more reliable energy to Tennesseans.”

Type One Energy’s Infinity One is a stellarator fusion reactor – different to a tokamak fusion reactor such as the Joint European Torus in the UK or the Iter device under construction in France. A tokamak is based on a uniform toroid shape, whereas a stellarator twists that shape in a figure-8. This gets round the problems tokamaks face when magnetic coils confining the plasma are necessarily less dense on the outside of the toroidal ring.

Type One Energy said it “applies proven advanced manufacturing methods, modern computational physics, and high-field superconducting magnets to develop its optimised stellarator fusion energy system”.

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