SMR: Young entrepreneur is on path to make nuclear fusion a hot commodity
Richard Dinan, a young and multi-sector entrepreneur explains how he hopes to create a prototype micro-fusion reactor through his start-up Applied Fusion Systems. Could big bang technology be the next big thing in clean energy? And could young enterprising entrepreneurs make nuclear cool again?
By Jason Deign
When Richard Dinan, a UK entrepreneur best known for his appearances in a reality TV show Made in Chelsea, reported that he set up Applied Fusion Systems-the latest in a long list of entrepreneurial endeavours-business reporters were at the very least intrigued to learn more.
Dinan has taken everything but the typical path to entering the fringes of the nuclear power sector and his first foray was in a very unexpected area, the wearable smart energy industry.
In addition to his own endeavours at Applied Fusion Systems, Dinan is a Director at UK-based Ion Core, a manufacturer of the Zinter line of desktop 3D printers, which signed a contract in August to supply their Zinter PRO Desktop 3D Printers to aerospace and defense giant Airbus Group.
Dinan says that he has been been extremely lucky to have had excellent investors who have taught him a lot and given him their time. Referred to by some as the next Richard Branson for his wide range of business ventures and on-screen presence, he tells Nuclear Energy Insider why his latest venture is a lot more serious than you might think.
Q: What was your inspiration for starting this venture?
There are quite a few ways people are doing things now. There are people trying to combine tokamaks with LNER [Low Energy Nuclear Reaction] and palladium, all sorts of things. One of the things we are keeping quiet is our exact reactor design.
We are not going into this to be the first people to break fusion. What has attracted me to this sector is I run a 3D printing company, which is for rapid-prototyping complex shapes, and have also had a project which has forced me to study asteroids for 10 years.
To really understand asteroids you have to understand where they came from, which leads you into fusion on the cosmology level. We were approached to create some of the more toroidal designs which have been conceptualised in tokamaks.
The best way to manufacture them would be through 3D printing. We were approached to create some of those designs and I fell in love with the technology and the concept. With plasma control, there are so many things that could come off it.
Q: What stage is your business at currently?
We are very early-stage. We are funded and we have a small think tank. We are looking at the most practical way of going about it, but we are not talking about the exact type of reactor design. We are developing it ourselves and we intend to make a demonstration of it.
People need to stop treating this as sci-fi and start realising this is going to play a massive role. Combustion is something we’ve spent too long doing.
Q: Are your working mainly with academics or industry for this?
We’re going to do the whole thing on our own. We have a group of engineers, electricians and physicists that we have recruited and we are shuffling through at the moment to make sure we have a really good team. We want to have a broad spectrum of different experience.
It’s about 40% academics. We are trying to get people who are more practical rather than theoretical.
Q: Where is the funding coming from?
There are tokamaks out there that have been funded for GBP£170,000 [€213,000/USD$267,000], that have wood in them, that have achieved 200 million kelvin.
We have a private group of investors that we have a good relationship with and have funded companies for us. The advantage of private funding is that we don’t have to wait for elections or wait for funds to be allocated. We don’t have committees that rule us.
We can be much more practical about it. We won’t be delayed. We can produce something much faster than people expect. Apart from having all the machines that make the machines available to us, we don’t have to wait on green lights. We control our own funding.
It’s not venture capital. It’s all private, high net-worth individuals.
Q: In regards to your studies on asteroids was it linked in modelling, printing or manufacturing and will the companies or organisations/clients you work currently be involved in the new fusion venture?
The meteorite studies have been for Senturion http://youtu.be/-TQ8r0zZA8Q I studied meteorites in depth for it. The machining videos can be seen on the website. It was a fascinating and unusual project.
Q: Is the talent coming solely from Europe or elsewhere?
Thus far all recruitment has been done in Europe.
Q: Is the company focusing on developing a fusion vessel/not the fusion components but the main casing etc.?
No we are going to create a prototype reactor. Not just parts.
Q: Which materials will need to be sourced for the main product? The reason I ask is to see if there is a high value fossil fuel or other commodity linked to the prototype costs. Also are most of the materials considered sustainable and available in Europe?
The materials are all readily available. There are no issues with the above.
Q: Have you thought as far ahead as the end of life stage of the reactor components and fuel for decommissioning/repository sites or recycling fuel?
Again this technology doesn't really create any long lived issues here.
What are the key target geographic markets for the product and why?
We are only building one, it is not for sale and is for our own use in study and R&D of the technology. We will be also looking for breakaway technologies associated with the implementation of fusion and its effect on future innovation.
You did not have the typical education or career path into physics. Did have any ambitions to study traditionally at university?
I left school [at 16] with no interest in Physics just with a desire to start my own company. I would never have guessed that later I would be paying for my own physics education out of the profits made. I have always been naturally practical in electronics and engineering; but the more you understand something, the more you realise how little you know. I have learnt to study and study and to narrow my efforts to what peaks my interest.
Q: What is your development schedule?
The first stage will be to demonstrate our own reactor. I’m not saying we are going to crack fusion and beat ITER, but demonstrate a reactor that works ‘as best can be’.
I will be demonstrating it to people who are interested in innovation, fascinated in investments and businesses and growing of manufacture.
When you can show them a plasma light up and describe to them in really simple ways how this technology is going to affect them, you can get people involved who will bring a huge amount of resource to this.
Additional reporting by K. Steiner-Dicks