Join in the fusion of minds

The Engineer’s news story about moves to reinforce the knowledge base underpinning nuclear fusion is interesting on a number of levels.

The creation of a centre in Warwick to boost the UK‘s pool of plasma physics specialists demonstrates again that fusion is increasingly seen as a key technology in helping to meet future energy needs.

Decades of international research, not least in the UK, has removed many of the scientific question marks concerning fusion power and it is hoped that the next big step — the ITER facility in France — will fill in the remaining gaps.

When that happens, fusion could be ready to make the transition from theoretical to applied science and, of course, engineering.

According to Richard Dendy of the UK‘s fusion research centre at Culham, ITER is ‘the last big experiment before we move on to a power station prototype’.

Even on the shortest projected timescale, commercial use is unlikely to happen for several decades but in terms of the evolution of a scientific, engineering and industrial base, this is the blink of an eye.

The Engineer has already played host to a bold vision from leading experts in the field of how fusion could be used to generate hydrogen for a green economy (The Engineer, 31 October 2005).

That is why investment in the underlying research base is welcome, particularly in conjunction with the excellent work under way at Culham. But if scientific research does clear the way for fusion to move from physics to full-scale commercial energy source, many other issues arise. Where would investment in fusion come from? From the government or the EU? From the private sector, possibly the world’s energy majors? Where will the engineering technologies needed to apply the science be developed?

In short, fusion is a good — albeit rather dramatic — example of the challenges involved in the research, development, application and commercialisation of a new technology.

If there are benefits to be reaped from fusion energy, then doing so will require collaboration between universities, research facilities, governments at national and EU level, major corporates and engineering companies of every shape and size.

This process takes place on a smaller, less epoch-making scale all the time. Bringing together academia, technology, engineering, finance and government is the cornerstone of many a product development process. It is vital to our future technology economy.

That is why The Engineer has organised a Summit on the theme of Commercialising Technology to be held at London‘s ImperialCollege on 27 June.

It will study the issues surrounding the development of technologies into successful, sustainable businesses and the collaborative approach needed to make that the exception rather than the rule. You could call it the fusion of minds to make things happen.

Find out more here.