Eni Expands Collaboration With MIT Spinoff To Demonstrate Industrial Fusion Energy
The strategic agreement puts the partners’ joint activities on a more certain path to connecting the first fusion power plant based on magnetic confinement to the electrical grid by early 2030.
Eni and MIT spinoff Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS) have signed a collaboration framework agreement to commercialize fusion energy.
One of the next steps on the ongoing partnership is aimed at launching the world’s first fusion pilot plant based on magnetic confinement, with net production of fusion energy expected in 2025.
The multiyear collaboration signed in March builds on early investments Eni made in CFS starting in 2018 and sets terms for various projects now being developed, including joint research, development, and deployment opportunities in fusion energy and related technologies, the companies noted in separate news releases.
The agreement leverages Eni’s global engineering and project management expertise for a series of projects to support CFS in developing and deploying industrial scale fusion energy based on magnetic confinement technology including:
- Strategy and support in scaling CFS’ global ARC business (envisioned as the first fusion power plant connecting to the grid by the early 2030s), including power plant siting, market development, and the development of a fusion workforce
- Project execution and operations collaboration for ARC and SPARC (the first commercially viable net fusion pilot plant CFS aims to begin operating in 2025)
- Supply chain development and management
- Technology collaboration in areas where the energy industry has unique capabilities, such as remote maintenance and robotics
- Policy and international market development, including fusion energy regulations, and fusion education to help ensure a globally deployable technology
Eni calls itself the first energy major to recognize fusion as a possible fit for the energy transition toolbox. The Italian oil and gas giant turned energy company made its first investment into CFS in 2018 and is today a significant shareholder.
Bob Mumgaard, CEO of CFS, and Eni CEO Claudio Descalzi signed the framework deal in March while meeting at CFS’ new 50-acre fusion campus in Devens, Massachusetts. Mumgaard said the agreement “underscores the key role existing energy companies play in accelerating fusion energy industrialization and the power of pairing of complementary organizations.”
Descalzi said, “We are facing a potentially momentous technological breakthrough” and if “the first CFS power plant based on magnetic confinement fusion (becomes operational) at the beginning of the next decade,” industry will have another 20 years to build out the technology on a grand scale by 2050. “Eni was the first energy company to concretely engage in this sector,” he added.
Magnetic vs. Inertial Confinement
Meanwhile, in December 2022, the US Department of Energy (DOE) and DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced a fusion power breakthrough from DOE’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) based on inertial confinement.
LLNL’s National Ignition Facility (NIF) conducted the first controlled fusion experiment to reach scientific energy breakeven—the point when fusion produces more energy than the laser energy required to drive the process.
While magnetic confinement (the technology involved in CFS and Eni’s research) seeks to create a stable continuous plasma in which fusion can take place, an alternative—inertial confinement—seeks to generate energy instead from a series of discrete fusion reactions producing a burst of energy each time.
CFS spun out of MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center as a private company in 2018 and has raised more than $2 billion in funding since its founding. The company’s approach to fusion is magnetic confinement. In 2021, CFS and MIT successfully demonstrated a revolutionary 20-tesla high-temperature superconducting (HTS) magnet, the strongest magnet of its kind in the world, which ensures plasma confinement in the magnetic fusion process.