MIT: Fusion future 15 years away

MIT officials, with $50 million in initial private backing, estimate it will take 15 years to build a working prototype of a fusion power plant running on cheap, plentiful hydrogen and capable of producing carbon-free energy.

Researchers have made similar claims in the past, only to see the deadlines pass with little or no progress. MIT officials are confident this time will be different, in part because years of research have proven the basic science and a new type of superconducting material has come along that promises to dramatically reduce the amount of energy required to run the powerful magnets needed to pull off a fusion reaction.

Fusion generates the release of intense heat by slamming two hydrogen atoms together to form a single helium atom. A fusion reactor would use the heat to boil water into steam and turn electrical generators. The fusion process requires temperatures of as much as 200 million degrees, which can only be accomplished with magnetic fields that have always taken more energy to produce than the fusion process yields. MIT officials say the new superconducting material — called yttrium-barium-copper oxide — will change that.

MIT’s fusion philosophy is almost as promising as the science. For years, fusion research has survived only with the help of government funding, and MIT lost out when the United States bet heavily on a fusion reactor being built in southern France with backing from many foreign countries. That project is way over budget and running behind schedule.

But MIT has found another way to raise funds by convincing the private sector that fusion has a future. Key researchers at MIT have formed a company called Commonwealth Fusion Systems, which has received $50 million in funding from the Italian energy company ENI.

Michael Zarnstorff, deputy director for research at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab, said the emergence of fusion startups is a sign that private industry sees money-making potential in the technology.

“People are judging that you’re close enough that they’re willing to put their own money into it to try and make a system that will work and can be made commercial. And this is what we’re starting to see,” said Zarnstorff.

Dennis Whyte, an MIT professor and director of the university’s plasma science and fusion center, predicted in a 2016 interview with CommonWealth that economical fusion energy production was 15 years away.

Maria Zuber, vice president for research at MIT, said in an op-ed in the Boston Globe that, if Commonwealth Fusion Systems is successful, New England could become a new hub in the world’s energy future. “More important, this commercial and investment success would benefit all of humanity by providing carbon-free power at scale in time to make a difference against climate change.”



CommonWealth lists the state’s top lobbying firms and their biggest clients.

Howie Carr wonders just what Charlie Baker has accomplished as governor. (Boston Herald)

A water pipe burst in a first floor hallway of the State House. (State House News)

It’s a matter of green vs. green vs. green: Leaders of the state’s nascent marijuana industry are decrying rules adopted by the Cannabis Control Commission that would impose energy efficiency guidelines on their growing facilities, a move they say will come at a steep cost to their businesses. (Boston Globe)


The move by Globe publisher John Henry, who also owns the Red Sox, to push to rename Yawkey Way outside Fenway Park, prompts the Yawkey Foundation to take out a pricey full-page ad in his paper decrying the move. In the ad, the Rev. Ray Hammond disputes the allegation that Tom Yawkey was a racist and says renaming the street would “aggravate old wounds and force people to take sides over how to treat the Yawkey name, which appears on numerous buildings in Boston.

Officials in the Hyannis Fire District, one of five districts in the town of Barnstable, want nonprofits in the village to start kicking in money because they utilize the service liberally without paying taxes. (Cape Cod Times)

Gardner’s insurance company agreed to pay $140,000 to a man who claims he was the victim of police brutality during a 2011 arrest. (Telegram & Gazette)

The owner of a historic building in downtown Brockton who plans to renovate it into 51 apartments said the city has threatened to take the building by eminent domain to finish the project after he parted ways with a Boston developer in a dispute over spending. (The Enterprise)

New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell gave his State of the City address and one of the revelations was he will hold his public “office hours” at area restaurants and pick up the food tab because turnout has been “underwhelming.” (Standard-Times)


President Trump has accepted an invitation from North Korea leader Kim Jong-un to meet face-to-face within the next two months to discuss the rogue nation’s nuclear program. (New York Times)


A Berkshire Eagle editorial laments Gov. Charlie Baker’s decision to go along with Berkshire County District Attorney David Capeless’s plan to retire and turn the post over to his deputy, giving the aide an incumbent’s advantage in the November election. The paper says it’s not too late to change course. CommonWealth put a spotlight on the behind-the-scenes dealmaking last week.

Boston police commissioner William Evans says he’s met with two of the three announced candidates for Suffolk district attorney — Shannon McAuliffe and Greg Henning — but has no plans to endorse anyone in the race. (Boston Herald)

There are rumblings of possible Republican primary challengers to President Trump,in 2020, but some dismiss the talk as idle chatter. (Boston Globe)


President Trump signed his controversial order raising tariffs on steel and aluminum but created exemptions for Mexico and Canada and held the door open for other carve-outs. (National Review)

Latinos in Massachusetts face the largest income and home ownership gap relative to whites in the country. (Boston Globe)

Massachusetts housing costs are high, but so are wages in the state. (Boston Globe)

Bass Pro Shops canceled a concealed carry fashion show at its Foxborough store. (Boston Globe)


Avon School superintendent Paul Zinni is leaving to take over as superintendent of the King Philip Regional School District in Wrentham. (The Enterprise)

Decrying the pull of “white male insiders,” Shirley Leung throws cold water on the idea of state gambling commission chairman Steve Crosby becoming chancellor of UMass Boston. (Boston Globe)

Suffolk University named its interim president, Marissa Kelly, to the permanent post, but not without controversy as she was not actually one of the finalists named by a search committee. (Boston Globe)

The Salem School Committee voted 6-1 to close the Nathaniel Bowditch Elementary School and allow the Horace Mann Laboratory School to move in. School officials say that concentrating English Language Learners at the Bowitch had ended up segregating Latinos there; Bowditch students will now be distributed throughout the district. (Salem News)

A Boston teacher’s tweet is shining a spotlight on classroom doors without a functioning lock, something security plans count on as part of drills anticipating a shooter in the school. (Boston Herald)

The tony New Hampshire boarding school St. Paul’s says it “badly handled” the case of a teacher accused of misconduct by giving him a recommendation that helped him land a teaching job at another private school. (Boston Globe)


More consolidation is in line for the health care industry as insurance giant Cigna has reached an agreement to buy the pharmacy benefit management company Express Scripts for $67 billion. (U.S. News & World Report)


Tim Murray, the Worcester business leader and former lieutenant governor, makes the case for bringing more natural gas into the region on Twitter and gets a lot of pushback from pipeline opponents. (CommonWealth)

Gov. Charlie Baker said in the wake of two destructive nor’easters he will file a bill addressing climate change next week. (State House News Service) With many residents still without power, Andover and North Andover open warming centers where residents can go to stay warm. (Eagle-Tribune)

Shellfish beds between the Cape Cod Canal and the Rhode Island state line that were closed after last week’s storm are set to reopen Friday. (Cape Cod Times)


At least four lawsuits are pending against the Bristol County Sheriff’s Department alleging mistreatment of county inmates it has held. (New England Center for Investigative Reporting)


Jerry Remy, talking about his battles with both cancer and depression, says he’s ready to resume NESN broadcasts of Red Sox games this spring. (Boston Herald)

Can college newspapers thrive in a digital age? (The Raleigh News & Observer)