Gates, Bezos Back Nuclear Fusion Startup

Vintage scientific illustration of a proposed nuclear fusion reactor. Screen print by Tom Rost, 1958. (Illustration by GraphicaArtis/Getty Images)

Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, two of the richest men in the world, are backing a startup led by a 34 year old MIT PhD, Brandon Sorbom. Their mission: unlimited clean energy. How they are going to accomplish it: nuclear fusion.

Nuclear fusion is the opposite of nuclear fission. Nuclear fission is when you carefully split an atom, creating a source of energy. So the opposite of that, naturally, is smashing 2 atoms together. Turns out this way is cleaner, safer and more efficient. It’s also more abundant.

To sum up how badass nuclear fusion is: it’s what powers the sun. The fucking sun!

The fucking sun!

So, yeah, pretty big deal.

The problem is that this process is incredibly difficult to control, and scientist have yet to find a nondestructive way to apply it. Me trying to explain this would be an embarrassment to the scientific community and the educational institutions I attended so I’ll let somebody smarter than me walk you through it.

It appears that one of the downsides to nuclear reactors is that they use up all the energy they create...creating the energy. Sounds like a problem alright. But that’s where Commonwealth Fusion Systems comes in. To work around this problem, "CFS is applying a new method where it is heating and turning a unique form of hydrogen into plasma -- aka the fourth stage of matter." They are using something called a "tokamak" to do this, which apparently has something to do with doughnuts and plasma. Exactly what it does and how it does it is way over my head, but it look's straight out of a sci-fi movie:

Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS) was spun out of MIT's Plasma Science and Fusion Center to leverage the decades of fusion research combined with the innovation and speed of the private sector. Supported by the world’s leading investors in breakthrough energy technologies, the CFS team is uniquely positioned to deliver the fastest path to commercial fusion energy. CFS has assembled a world-class team to design and build fusion machines. This team includes experts in magnets, manufacturing, and plasma physics dedicated to the mission of delivering clean, limitless fusion power to the world.

Commonwealth Fusion Systems Mission

Their goal is to make fusion energy main stream by the early 2030s, but their more immediate milestone will be in 2025 when they plan on demonstrating their SPARC (tokamak) in action. With backers with pockets as deep as Gates' and Bezos', my money is on those goals being met.