German Startup Secures Funding for Innovative Twisted Fusion Machine with Potential for Limitless Clean Energy

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Stellarator fusion reactor

A German startup, Proxima Fusion, has successfully obtained €‎7 million in funding to advance the development of a unique and visually intriguing fusion machine known as a stellarator. This little-known fusion reactor holds the potential to revolutionize the energy industry by providing abundant, clean, and limitless power.

Proxima Fusion is the first spinoff from Germany’s esteemed Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics, a renowned institution dedicated solely to fusion research. The institute is home to the world’s largest stellarator, the Wendelstein 7-X. With 27 years of research, design, and €‎1.3 billion in investment, this impressive machine represents the culmination of cutting-edge plasma theory and advancements in supercomputing.

Unlike the traditional doughnut-shaped tokamak, which has dominated the fusion sector for decades, stellarators offer several advantages. The twisted configuration of superconducting magnets in a stellarator helps maintain stable, super-heated plasma, allowing for efficient fusion of atomic nuclei and energy release. Crucially, stellarators have the potential to operate continuously, while tokamaks require periodic resets of their magnet coils.

However, due to their intricate design and construction complexity, stellarators were largely overshadowed by tokamaks in the 1960s. Ian Hogarth, co-founder of Plural Platform, the leader of the €7 million investment, explained that tokamaks are relatively easier to design but harder to operate, while stellarators are exceptionally challenging to design but simpler to operate once constructed.

Since its activation in 2016 by former German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Wendelstein 7-X has achieved significant scientific breakthroughs, significantly influencing the field of magnetic confinement fusion. Fusion physicist Josefine Proll of the Eindhoven University of Technology expressed great enthusiasm, stating that stellarators are now back in the game.

Proxima Fusion, supported by the initial investment, aims to commercialize these recent developments. CEO Francesco Sciortino believes that the startup’s association with the Max Planck Institute, which boasts a larger team dedicated to plasma physics than MIT, provides a unique advantage. The question now is whether Proxima Fusion can execute their plans effectively and establish itself as a European leader in fusion technology.

While tokamak pioneers have attracted substantial private investments, recent breakthroughs in stellarator technology have opened doors for new fusion startups like Proxima. Type One, a spinoff from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, secured $29 million in funding from Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Ventures in March to develop a commercially viable stellarator.

Although commercially viable operations may still be 25 years away, according to Thomas Klinger, director of the Max Planck Institute’s Greifswald branch, the potential of limitless, clean energy makes the wait worthwhile.

As the stellarator startup scene gains momentum, the possibilities for transforming the energy landscape are becoming increasingly promising. While there are still challenges to overcome, the pursuit of fusion energy could lead to a future powered by sustainable, carbon-free sources that have the potential to meet global energy demands.