Axios Pro Exclusive Content

Commonwealth advances heart of fusion machine

Commonwealth Fusion Systems' vacuum vessel, cut in half, at a facility.

Commonwealth Fusion System's vacuum vessel, cut in half, which will house the plasma in its fusion machine. Photo: Courtesy of Walter Tosto.

The biggest and most well-funded fusion company, Commonwealth Fusion Systems, has made progress on a key part of its first machine, the company tells Axios.

Why it matters: As fusion companies race to build machines that could eventually produce carbon-free electricity, tech milestones are some of the only ways for investors and the public to judge company progress.

Driving the news: Commonwealth Fusion Systems' (CFS) steel fusion vacuum vessel is due to arrive in the next few months, built by Italian oil and gas gear maker Walter Tosto.

  • The vacuum vessel will house the plasma that's the pulsing heart of the company's fusion machine and has to be entirely airtight.
  • Walter Tosto recently split the vacuum vessel in half, and CFS will assemble it again with the tokamak parts around it at its Devens, Massachusetts, facility.
  • CFS CEO Bob Mumgaard described the vessel's arrival as "a tangible sign of progress."

Zoom in: According to the Fusion Industry Association, 43 companies are working on fusion technologies, and last year alone 13 new fusion companies were founded or emerged from stealth.

  • Mumgaard says the emergence of new companies is a sign of a healthy evolution. "Fusion is establishing itself as an industry in its own right."
  • CFS has the most ambitious timeline out of its peers to get to the point where a fusion machine produces more energy than is put into it.
  • CFS says much of the equipment for its SPARC facility will arrive this year, will be assembled in 2025, and will achieve first plasma by the end of 2026.

By the numbers: CFS has raised $2 billion from investors including Bill Gates, Gates' Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Tiger Global, Jeff Bezos, Khosla Ventures, Lowercarbon Capital, Google, John Doerr, and Marc Benioff's Time Ventures, among others.

Behind the scenes: The trickiest part of getting SPARC up and running could be building out the high-temperature superconducting magnets, or HTS, which are notoriously fragile.

  • SPARC will require 18 of these magnets to operate.
  • CFS said building the magnets at its factory is one of the highest priority items at the company right now.

The big picture: While fusion is creeping closer to commercialization, it's still a moon-shot technology.

  • If the tech ends up working, fusion machines could provide baseload clean energy and help remove carbon emissions from the power sector.

Editor's note: This story was updated to clarify the photo credit and the timing of the vacuum's arrival.

Go deeper