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“The code will soon be cracked” – An interview with Novatron inventor and fusion energy mastermind, Jan Jäderberg

Energize Editors

Energize Editors

It was the Swedish financial crash in the early 1990s that thrust Novatron Fusion Group’s inventor Jan Jäderberg into the world of magnetism.

What followed shortly after was a decades-long obsession with electromagnetism and plasma containment, in a bid to influence fusion energy and the ‘holy grail’ of renewable energy.

Chief Technology Officer Jan Jäderberg is the mastermind inventor of the Novatron fusion energy solution – the world’s only stable mirror-machine concept, and the only mirror machine-concept in Europe. It’s the Nordic’s first nuclear fusion venture, and one of the most novel approaches in the field.

“I studied machine technology at KTH University in Stockholm and started looking into structural mechanics – involving stress and strength,” said Jan. “I read every course which was available in this area. When I graduated with my Masters in 1991, we had a deep financial crisis in Sweden which made it difficult to find work. But I found a company working with magnets – a small company selling power chains with electromagnets for industrial use. This was the point I started looking into magnetism, and ways to compute magnetic fields.

“Later on, in the early 2000s I joined M2 Engineering, which developed and produced production equipment for CDs and DVDs. The most advanced process within this is called ‘magnetron spluttering’. This involved creating plasma, keeping it in a controlled state, and coating the CDs with a very thin layer of reflective material. I was responsible the design and R&D of the magnetrons.

“Through my interest in electromagnetism and plasma physics, I started thinking about fusion energy and different way to control plasma. I remember the first idea about how to approach fusion. I scribbled it down on a piece paper – a sort of ‘nerd list’ of ideas I wanted to explore. It has been steady progress ever since applying deep thought about controlling plasma and adapting magnetic fields, to potentially impact fusion power.”

After his tenure at M2 Engineering, Jan assumed the role of Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at Thermal Cyclic Technologies. This company was established based on Jan’s patent, and its primary investor was Microsoft’s Research and Development (R&D) unit in Redmond, USA. The venture initially focused on an early science project related to multi-touch screens. Subsequently, Jan spearheaded research and development efforts for the production equipment of thin-film solar cells. These endeavours combined earlier patents related to sputtering with novel concepts from the field of plasma physics.

He went onto Advanced Simulations where he became deeply involved in electromagnetism combining broad knowledge in structural, fluid and thermal dynamics. Jäderberg later co-founded TC TECH Sweden AB, allowing him to develop technology based on his many inventions.

In 2018, Jan made a big decision which would have a significant impact on the future. He took two months leave to study everything he could find on fusion plasma physics, becoming fully immersed in the science, before filing his first patent for the Novatron. When the global pandemic hit in 2020, Jan was afforded even more time to invest in research.

“The idea had grown so strong I needed to investigate it thoroughly,” he added. “I was totally absorbed from that moment. At the start, I thought there must be something wrong because the concept was so simple. If you want to do something in fusion energy you tend to look at the Tokamak or alternatively try to solve the problem with instabilities in the mirror-machine by adding things, rather than changing the concept.

“Many other fusion companies are continuing working on the same principle. The Novatron is a totally new concept. Although it’s a mirror-machine the basic concept is very different, addressing the major issue of stable plasma confinement. It has a very solid foundation to build from.”

The Novatron concept allows plasma to oscillate between two magnetic mirrors as its heated to more than 100 million degrees Celsius. The approach aims to simplify the quest to deliver fusion energy while reducing capital cost of fusion reactors by half, compared to other solutions in experimental development, such as the Tokamak.

The novel technology builds to a great extent on formative work carried out over decades at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California from the 1960s through to the mid-80s, where the world’s largest mirror machine fusion development was initially conducted.

Now, a number of leading figures behind the seminal US initiative are backing Novatron Fusion Group’s efforts to push the boundaries of the technology. This includes Kenneth Fowler (Professor Emeritus at the Department of Nuclear Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, and Arthur Molvik (Physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, since 1972).

“During these early days I made contact with KTH University, and started talking with renowned fusion expert Professor Jan Scheffel, who is now a member of Novatron Fusion Group,” added Jan. “He couldn’t find any error in the design, so he pointed me to Professor Fowler, who managed the billion-dollar budget to create the first mirror-machine fusion technology, kick-starting the industry.

“Ken Fowler is the leading mind in mirror physics today. He’s in his 90s but sharp as a knife. I sent him my design drafts, and he came back within a week essentially saying, ‘this will work’. It was a real ‘wow’ moment. Shortly before this I met Eric Oden (Novatron Fusion Group Co-founder & Chairman), who has tremendous commercial experience. He helped me start the company and build profile. It was a real turning point when it comes to mindset, and we went from a few guys to the company we have today, with a strong vision for the future.”

Fusion power occurs when two atoms are fused together to form a heavier atom. This is the same process that powers the sun and creates huge amounts of energy—several times greater than nuclear fission, the technique used in nuclear power plants.

The Novatron offers a stable magnetic plasma confinement solution through unique geometry, enabling the use of traditional copper coils to generate powerful magnetic fields. Engineers recently completed a complex multi-system integration project to create plasma, marking a Scandinavian first and raising ambitions for the Nordics’ fusion energy sector.

The result was delivered on the first attempt via the firm’s X0 experimental test rig at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden. It marks a rapid ascent for Novatron Fusion Group which recently celebrated its one-year anniversary in December 2023, and plans to launch its first official test facility – the N1 by summer 2024.

“As far as we know the Novatron is the first magnetic configuration to have concave plasma which is created by an intrinsic growing magnetic field from the centre of the device.”

Expanding on Novatron Fusion Group’s broader patent portfolio, Jan added: “I was working on a paper with Professor Fowler, and he suggested we run a simulation using super conducting magnets. I found super conducting magnets should have a specific shape in order to deliver the maximum magnetic field. We now have five patent families on the basic concept of how to create a stable plasma.”

Novatron Fusion Group has a two-step approach to create its blueprint for fusion power, through Novatron 1 and Novatron 2. N1 will show there are no instabilities with predictable behaviour in the magnetic walls. N2 will use a Novatron base cell to maximise the performance of the design.

“We are closing in on nuclear fusion which has been reflected by the huge interest in the sector in recent years,” said Jan. “The code will soon be cracked and proven at a level accepted by academia. However, we are committed to proving this at a commercial level as a cost-efficient, clean energy solution. It’s also a solution which is not geographically restricted, so it has an innate ability to democratise energy. 

“At Novatron we will soon launch the N1 to demonstrate proof of principle,” added Jan. “The N2 will prove the scalability of the reactor, and it’s this phase which hugely excites me. Having evolved from a good idea to the conceptual phase, we’re now on the cusp of industrialisation. We have great confidence the concept will work, and once we’ve succeeded it has the ability to positively impact the entire world.”

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