General Fusion | BCBusiness
A Vancouver fusion power company has secured the help of a NASA astronaut and President Obama’s former climate change czar as it prepares to prove its technology
General Fusion Inc. announced Tuesday that it has appointed astronaut Mark Kelly and former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Carol M. Browner to its nine-member advisory council.
“It’s a great step forward in getting outside expertise from some of the best people in the world for the different challenges we’re trying to tackle,” says CEO Nathan Gilliland.
Browner has spent most of her career in and around government, also working as a lobbyist on environmental issues, and eventually climbing to the top of the EPA.
“She’s one of the world leaders in thinking through climate change, and climate change policy,” says Gilliland. He expects her to play a role in making the technology a commercial success.
Browner was credited with tightening clean air regulations during the Clinton administration, and under Obama she oversaw the government response to the Deepwater Horizon spill.
Kelly flew on numerous shuttle missions, and was the commander on the last mission of the Space Shuttle Endeavor. He retired in 2011, citing the need to aid in the recovery of his wife, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot earlier that year. He has since started doing public speaking, which fits the purpose that Gilliland says he sees for Kelly.
“In particular, we’re working with him on the labs we’re working with in the U.S., as well as just a communications strategy about fusion itself—not just about us but the prospects for fusion energy around the world,” he says. “It’s not going to be a winner-take-all industry.”
Following that principle of cooperation, General Fusion’s technology actually “fuses” two competing schools of thought on how to achieve the elusive process.
Fusion energy companies like General Fusion claim to be on the cusp of achieving a 60-year-old vision of producing a net gain in energy, the holy grail of clean energy production. Because it relies on a readily-available source of fuel—hydrogen isotopes that can be extracted from abundant seawater and lithium—and leaves no long-lasting radioactive byproducts, it holds great promise.
It’s safe, too, with no chance of meltdown, unlike its nuclear power cousin. The already well-established nuclear fission, which depends on a supply of uranium, leaves radioactive waste and can melt down in a runaway reaction under extreme circumstances.
Gilliland plans to have a so-called “alpha” plant in operation within the next few years, which would prove the viability of the technology. He sees it going much further than that, however.
“We’ve got literally billions of years of fuel,” he says. “Where we hope to be in a few years is that a very significant portion of the electricity the world is generating is from fusion.”
Aside from electricity, fusion produces a lot of heat, and that heat can be used for other applications. According to Gilliland, even an oil and gas firm has invested in order to develop a cheaper and cleaner way to extract and refine its products.
“Fusion is coming,” says Gilliland. “It’s not twenty years away anymore.”