Colorado State University, Marvel Fusion partner on fusion energy project

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Colorado State University and a German technology company are teaming up on what is expected to be one of the most powerful laser facilities in the world and a major step in the quest to commercialize fusion energy, long seen as a potential source of carbon-free power.

The $150 million project announced Monday will construct a research facility next to the school’s Advanced Beam Laboratory, built in 2013 on the CSU Foothills campus, west of the main campus in Fort Collins.

“CSU already today has a leading laser facility out at the Foothill campus. It has been a pleasure to come here for two years and conduct experiments,” said Heike Freund, the chief operating officer at Marvel Fusion, based in Munich.

The partnership is pending final authorization by the CSU System Board of Governors.

There is “a hard deadline of July 1, 2026,” for completion of construction, said Grant Calhoun, director of CSU’s Office of Industry Research Contracting.

“That fits Marvel’s timeline commercially,” Calhoun said. “And it fits CSU’s timeline to get things ramped up and hire faculty and be ready to hit the ground running.”

“This public-private partnership sets the global standard for laser-based fusion research, propelling the development of a safe, clean, and reliable energy source,”  Moritz von der Linden, Marvel Fusion CEO, said in a statement.

Marvel Fusion scientists will use lasers they are developing with the latest technology at what will be the next-generation laser facility, Freund said.

“The project aims to open up new avenues of research and exploration for students and faculty, and drive meaningful, long-term benefits to Fort Collins and the state,” CSU President Amy Parsons said in a statement.

Nuclear fission, the splitting of atoms, has been used for a while to produce electricity. But scientists have been working for decades to produce power from nuclear fusion, the combining of atomic nuclei to form a single nucleus, which is the core of an atom.

Fusion energy is what powers the sun and other stars. If the process of fusing atomic nuclei and releasing large amounts of energy can be produced on Earth on a commercial scale, it could supply virtually limitless clean, safe energy, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Laser beams are used to try to generate the same kinds of temperatures and pressures that exist in the cores of stars.

“I think there’s a great momentum in the fusion space currently by scientific breakthroughs,” Freund said.

The most important breakthrough occurred in 2022 at the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, Freund said.

“Scientists have shown for the first time ever that they were able to create energy with fusion and they actually were able to repeat that just a week ago,” she added. “I think the good news is that fusion is closer than many might have expected.”

Freund believes the commercialization of fusion energy could be as close as 10 years away. She also believes it could be “that missing puzzle piece” in moving from fossil fuels to deal with climate change because it could deliver power when needed. Renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, are variable and can require a lot of space, she said.

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