The US Federal government has initiated and funded a long-awaited program for public-private partnerships to develop fusion energy. The program was initiated in the 2022 Consolidated Appropriations Act, the $1.5 trillion spending bill which funds the government for the 2022 Fiscal Year. It has passed both the Senate and House and been signed into law by President Biden on March 15.
Long a priority for the Fusion Industry Association, which LPPFusion is a member of, this new public-private partnership program would allow the Department of Energy to partner with private companies to build new fusion energy devices, focused towards defined milestones, as agreed by a competitive application process. The program was created by Congress in the Energy Act of 2020, but the $45 million directed to this program in this year’s Appropriations Act is the first funding that was directly appropriated for it. The program will match companies’ expenditures on a dollar-for-dollar basis.
The $45 million is enough to provide for a large number of grants, so that the DOE does not need to “pick the winners” in advance and can start supporting a broad-based approach to fusion funding, backing many approaches, in contrast to the present policy of focusing on only a single huge device. It is not, however enough money to support all the needs of the industry for an all-out crash program to develop fusion as rapidly as possible. The FIA, based on a poll of its members, estimates that a spending level of $200 million a year is needed for that. Such a spending level would represent less than 0.02% of US government expenditures. By comparison, the new bill allocates $242 million for the giant ITER tokamak project.
Despite the funding limitations, LPPFusion considers this new program a big step forward. The ideas for this program were initiated by the FIA, led by Executive Director Andrew Holland, in 2018. The program has been supported by the newly-created bipartisan Fusion Caucus in Congress. Those familiar with the operation of the US government agree that getting a bill from idea to passage in only four years is a remarkable accomplishment. LPPFusion congratulates Mr. Holland and the FIA staff on their work in achieving this big step.
While the details of the program are still being worked out, we expect that a solicitation of grant proposals (a Funding Opportunity Announcement) will be issued during 2022. LPPFusion expects to apply.