Hidden away in the large appropriations bill signed by then-President Donald Trump on December 27, 2020 was a bold plan to create a new industry in the United States, centred on nuclear fission and fusion energy. Title II of the Energy Act of 2020 details broad support for the development and commercialization of this technology, including nearly a billion dollars this year alone for the Department of Energy to create a research and technology development program to build scientific and engineering capabilities. Further hundreds of millions will go to supporting international research collaboration, public-private R&D partnerships, and projects focused on commercial applications. It is, in short, a comprehensive and well-funded undertaking to massively scale a domestic high-tech industry, with enormous potential payoffs.
Writing in Asia Times, journalist Jonathan Tennenbaum explains that the plan is modelled on the public-private strategy that unleashed America’s soaring commercial space industry over the last decade. “It provides a goal of building a cost-competitive fusion power plant and establishing a competitive fusion power industry in the United States,” said Fusion Industry Association director Andrew Holland of the plan. The emergence of the private market for spaceflight created a powerful and profitable new paradigm for the space industry. If the US can achieve that again with fusion energy, it will be an incredible achievement.
At Research Money, we have been closely following the initial development of Canada’s homegrown hydrogen economy, which has demonstrated great promise in becoming an important domestic economic driver. Canadian lawmakers and policymakers would be wise to take a page from America’s fusion energy program, with the commercial space industry offering a lodestar for what is possible with bold support for public-private collaboration on R&D. Unfortunately, Prime Minister Trudeau’s recent supplementary mandate letter to the minister of innovation neglected to mention hydrogen power at all. It takes ambition to be a leader in innovation, and the willingness to seize a good opportunity. Our emerging hydrogen sector offers just such an occasion, if we can rise to it.