The US Department of Energy announced up to $30 million in funding for a new Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program, Breakthroughs Enabling THermonuclear-fusion Energy (BETHE). BETHE projects will support the development of timely, commercially viable fusion energy, aiming to increase the number and performance levels of lower-cost fusion concepts.
Controlled fusion has long been viewed as an ideal energy source, given its potential for the generation of energy that is safe, clean and abundant, but the technology’s development has been hindered by technical challenges and costs. The BETHE program seeks to address these challenges through a focus on increasing the number and performance levels of lower-cost fusion in three research areas:
new, lower-cost concept development;
component technology development to lower the cost of more-mature fusion concepts; and
improvements to and application of existing fusion R&D capabilities to accelerate the development of multiple concepts.
The program will also have a technology-to-market focus, aiming to develop a path to fusion commercialization through public, private, and philanthropic partnerships.
The BETHE program will build off of ARPA-E’s first fusion program, Accelerating Low-Cost Plasma Heating and Assembly (ALPHA). Projects in the ALPHA program focused on the development and prototyping of components and tools to demonstrate methods of reaching fusion conditions.
While some of these technologies have garnered interest by private fusion companies, more work and technical achievements need to be done to meet performance milestones or develop a grid-ready fusion demonstration. The BETHE program builds on ALPHA by seeking to mitigate the daunting scientific and technical risks facing lower-cost fusion concept developers.