Fusion energy almost sounds too good to be true – zero greenhouse gas emissions, no long-lived radioactive waste, a nearly unlimited fuel supply.
Perhaps the biggest roadblock to adopting fusion energy is that the economics haven't penciled out. Fusion power designs aren't cheap enough to outperform systems that use fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas.
University of Washington engineers hope to change that. They have designed a concept for a fusion reactor that, when scaled up to the size of a large electrical power plant, would rival costs for a new coal-fired plant with similar electrical output.
The team published its reactor design and cost-analysis findings last spring and will present results Oct. 17 at the International Atomic Energy Agency's Fusion Energy Conference in St. Petersburg, Russia.
"Right now, this design has the greatest potential of producing economical fusion power of any current concept," said Thomas Jarboe, a UW professor of aeronautics and astronautics and an adjunct professor in physics.