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U.S. Congress Gives Support for New Fusion Public-Private Partnership

U.S. Congress Gives Support for New Fusion Public-Private Partnership

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The Senate Appropriations Committee has given strong support to private fusion, directing the Department of Energy to create new Public Private Partnership Cost Share Program, saying that this is “An opportunity to seize global leadership” in fusion.
On Thursday, September 12, the Committee marked up the Energy and Water Appropriations bill, funding fusion programs in the U.S. Department of Energy. It passed unanimously. In the report accompanying the bill, the Committee offered strong support for the Department to work with private companies, saying:
The Committee is aware of the increase in global investment in private fusion energy companies developing advanced technology approaches with a focus on commercialization. The U.S. has an opportunity to seize global leadership in this transformational energy sector and attract global industry stakeholders by building on the Department’s laboratory capabilities and world class fusion science talent while partnering with these private fusion companies.
And, as a way to “seize” that leadership, the Committee endorsed two Public-Private-Partnership programs, recommending $20 million to each. First, it endorsed the recently created “Innovation Network for Fusion Energy” (INFUSE) program that awards vouchers to private companies that want to do fusion research with national labs. Second, it directed the Department to create a new “Fusion Public–Private Partnership Cost Share Program.” These two programs are a part of a recommended $570 million inf funding for the Department’s Fusion Energy Sciences program. Each of these programs is detailed in depth below. 

Next Steps

With this legislation passing the committee, it will now move the Senate floor, where Senators will have the opportunity to amend the bill before final passage. Once passed through the Senate, the differences between the House and Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Bills will have to be reconciled. The House bill provides $4 million to public private partnerships, and it provided $688 million overall to the Fusion Energy Sciences program. The House passed the bill on June 18 as a part of a larger appropriations package. The deadline for passage is September 30, the end of the 2019 Fiscal Year, but Congress can extend that deadline by passing a Continuing Resolution.
The Fusion Industry Association is excited about this program. Our 19 member companies are working to commercialize fusion power with private investment. They look forward to working with the Department of Energy to build a true partnership and “seize global leadership” in fusion.

The Proposed Public Private Partnership Cost-Share Program

For the last year, the FIA has been advocating for a public-private partnership modeled on the successful NASA COTS and DOE SMR Licensing Technical Support cost-share programs. These programs showed how government dollars can be leveraged with private funding to reach an achievable, ambitious goal, at overall costs far below earlier government estimates. 
This new program would directly reimburse private companies for the development of a “Step Change” in new US-based fusion capabilities over a 5-year program period. As the Appropriations Committee says, this program is intended to advance “multiple fusion advanced reactor technologies which are ready for large-scale integrated performance demonstration.” It is envisioned that a simple application process would encourage a broad range of applicants and result in a portfolio of awardees with different technologies through a competitive process. Government dollars would be leveraged with at least a 50% private sector cost share, and, as a way to protect taxpayers, control costs, and drive success, payments would be given based on performance; if industry participants failed to reach agreed-upon milestones, the contract would end.

The INFUSE Program

On June 7, the Department of Energy announced the creation of a new “Innovation Network for Fusion Energy” (INFUSE) program as a way to promote collaboration between the public and private sectors. The INFUSE website acts as the gateway for the program, providing directions and resources for how to apply for grants to work with federal researchers and other helpful links.
This new initiative within the Office of Fusion Energy Sciences will allow private companies to apply for vouchers that they would be able to spend at government-funded labs. In this way, the awards would fund private work at public laboratories within the DOE complex; helping private companies accelerate their pathway towards fusion energy.
The FIA has supported and advocated for the creation of a voucher program like this because it would enable companies to work directly with government scientists on government assets a process that is currently cumbersome, difficult, and sometimes prohibited. A range of FIA members applied to participate in this program, and are awaiting announcement of the first round of funding. With continued support from Congress, FIA members look forward to continuing  building on this important program.