Assessment of Markets and Customers for Fusion Applications*

L. M. Waganer and the ARIES Team **

The Boeing Company

P.O. Box 516, St. Louis, MO 63166-0516, USA

Presented at the 17th IEEE NPSS Symposium on Fusion Engineering
San Diego, California
6-9 October 1997

Abstract - With the projected cost of electricity from fusion power plant studies continuing to remain higher than that from competing technologies, alternative applications for fusion energy must be re-examined. A complete range of fusion products was investigated to explore common categories of applications and markets served by these products. A methodology based on the success and failure of previous large technology development projects was developed to assess encouraging fusion product applications. This evaluation methodology qualitatively evaluates a complete range of proposed fusion applications in terms of market potential, environmental considerations, economic impact, risk, and public perception in order to concentrate on those applications with the highest potential to best serve humankind while being a successful economic endeavor. The proposed fusion alternate applications are assessed and rank-ordered to concentrate on the more promising products for further in-depth studies.


The purpose of this study was assess other non-electric fusion applications to provide worthwhile new products. An alternate application may also provide a less costly development pathway to the goal of electricity generation.

This study was funded under the DOE-sponsored Advanced Reactor Innovation and Evaluation Study (ARIES) project which is a multi-institutional activity to explore and develop the commercial potential of fusion as a future energy source. The main thrust of DOE and the ARIES project is to investigate the ability of fusion to generate electricity. However, the technical difficulty to control the fusion process and convert the fusion energy into economic electrical power has remained an elusive goal. Fusion has the potential to be a very safe and abundant energy source, but the realization of this potential is very challenging and costly. Electrical power from fusion [1] remains above the cost of electricity from contemporary energy sources.

An alternate strategy to investigate is if other uses or products that may be obtained from fusion energy could also provide a useful and worthwhile end product for mankind. A study plan, Fig. 1, was created to help direct the study efforts. The first step in the process was to survey and catalogue the potential applications for fusion. The next step was to develop a decision analysis methodology to evaluate very dissimilar product applications. This decision analysis methodology would be validated with other prior large programs that have succeeded or failed. Following validation, the fusion applications would be assessed with the methodology. Rank ordering of the alternate fusion products would determine the most promising products to pursue.

Figure 1. Steps in assessment of fusion products and markets


There have been several studies which have surveyed the opportunities for fusion to provide a range of applications and products. EPRI sponsored a review of the status and options for fusion in 1977 [2] which provided the starting point for this study. A more recent assessment of near-term commercial opportunities from long range fusion research [3] was conducted by G. L. Kulcinski and was incorporated in our database. Several advocates for various applications have contributed to the understanding of their concepts, products, and markets. Table I is a compilation of the fusion products that may be obtained from the various forms of fusion energy. There is a lot of similarity of products which may be produced with neutrons, charged particles and radiation. But there are also unique products associated with each of the forms of fusion energy. Obviously, some alternate fusion confinement concepts would be better matched with certain products.


Potential Fusion Products

NeutronsCharged ParticlesRadiation
Process HeatWaste ProcessingWaste Sterilization
Rocket Propulsion Rocket Propulsion Rocket Propulsion
Electricity + Space Power Electricity + Space Power -
Potable WaterPotable Water -
Fissile FuelOre Reduction -
Transmuted WasteTransmuted Waste -
TritiumDestruction of Chemical Warfare Agents -
RadioisotopesRadioisotopes -
Detection and Remote SensingDetection and Remote SensingDetection and Remote Sensing
Neutron Radiography + Tomography Neutron Radiography + Tomography -
Radiotherapy Radiotherapy Radiotherapy
Neutron Activation Analyses/TestingProton Activation Analyses/Testing Radiation Testing
Altered Material Properties Altered Material Properties -
-Lithography Lithography


One of the key steps in the assessment is formulating an appropriate decision analysis methodology to evaluate the potential fusion products shown in Table I. As noted in Fig. 1, the first step was to determine the attributes that characterize a successful endeavor versus an endeavor that fails to meet the perceived expectations of the customer and/or decision maker (performance, schedule, or cost). Table II presents the set of large national and international projects that were selected as being in the same magnitude of fusion development.


Large National and International Projects Assessed

US Supersonic Transport
Superconducting Super Collider
Jumbo Jet (Super 747 Category)
High Definition TV (Analog and Digital)
Manned Moon and Mars Landing

These projects noted in Table II were examined to determine the customers expectations, if they met those expectations, and if they were successful. Key features, benefits, and risks were identified and examined. From that examination, a set of attributes were identified that would characterize the potential project and help guide the decision maker as to the benefits and risk in deciding to undertake (support) the project. Some of the attributes may be measured directly, such as economics and schedule; but others are indirect values such as good will and strategic advantage. Table III lists the general categories and the detailed attributes adopted for this assessment, along with the value assigned to each of the attributes (importance to the decision maker).


Decision Criteria Attributes

Market FactorsRelative Value
NecessityHigh (3)
UniquenessHigh (3)
Market PotentialHigh (3)
Environmental FactorsRelative Value
Depletion of Valued ResourcesModerate (2)
Environmental ImpactModerate (2)
Economic FactorsRelative Value
Competitive ProductHigh (3)
Improvement in GNPLow (1)
Risk FactorsRelative Value
Investment for Return of CapitalHigh (3)
Maturity of TechnologyHigh (3)
Time to MarketHigh (3)
Public PerceptionRelative Value
National/Company PrestigeLow (1)
Public/Governmental Support Moderate (2)

Once the attributes were selected, multiplicative and additive utility functions [4] were considered for the decision analysis methodology. The multiplicative utility function was deemed to be inappropriate because a score of zero in any single attribute would disqualify the product from further consideration. This might be very appropriate for well defined product concepts where they might have a fatal flaw or could not reach a mandatory threshold value. But at this stage in the definition of the fusion products, a score of zero should not eliminate a product from consideration because it might be capable of improving that particular attribute. Instead, an additive utility function would penalize the product with a zero score, but not eliminate it from further consideration. Therefore, the decision analysis methodology was determined to be:

SCORE = S (Attribute Weight) x (Attribute Value)

Weights = 1 to 3; Values = -5 to +5

The attribute values for each product were established to be on a scale of -5 ( for the least attractive attribute) to +5 (for the most attractive attribute). The use of positive and negative attribute values is completely arbitrary, but this approach helps the evaluator to judge positive and negative attributes. Each of the attributes was assigned a qualitative description of what the least attractive, neutrally attractive, and most attractive attributes were to keep the evaluation unbiased. This methodology was tested with the prior projects listed in Table II, and the results correlated well with historical data. Thus, the methodology was validated for use on the proposed fusion products.


The choice of a fusion confinement concept is immaterial in assessing the market factors, the public perception factors, and many of the environmental factors. But when the risk factors of investment, technology maturity, and time to market were considered, a confinement concept must be mated with the product to complete the assessment. The intent was to evaluate a complete range of possible products. However, only a limited number of the products and confinement concepts that were most likely to yield a competitive and successful product were evaluated (see the detailed assessment data to determine those products chosen). In the preliminary analysis, 17 fusion products were evaluated with this methodology.

Table IV illustrates the selected fusion products (shown in the first row) and the evaluation data used to describe and evaluate those products. The second row lists the key assumptions for each product, such as confinement concept and processes assumed. The left-hand column lists the attributes that are addressed for each product. The associated attribute weighting factors are shown in the second column. The individual attribute values for each product are shown in the corresponding spreadsheet cells.

Table IV

Preliminary Fusion Product Evaluation Results

This process was first completed by the author. Next it was reviewed by a small assessment group from the ARIES team and then the entire ARIES project team and some guests from the University of Wisconsin Fusion Technology Institute. Meanwhile, several product advocates critiqued the methodology and assessment. Comments from all these sources were integrated into the preliminary assessment data shown in Table IV. The weighted sum scores for each product are shown on the bottom row of the table. A rank-ordered graph of these scores is shown and discussed in the next section.


The weighted sum data from the decision analysis methodology shown in Table IV was rank-ordered and displayed in Fig. 2. These data indicate that the transmutation of nuclear waste would be the most desirable fusion product, decreasing down to the fusion-fission breeder reactor as the least desirable under the present circumstances.

Fig. 2. Ranked Weighted Values of Fusion Products

To understand why these products are evaluated as such, one has to examine the attributes and weighting methodology used. Only a very few of the products were rated at the maximum positive value and none at the maximum negative value. The concepts that scored well had several attributes that scored highly. They were thought to be able to be developed in a shorter time and have more mature technology and good public support. They also required less investment capital to reach the market. Conversely, the breeder application was not viewed as being needed in the U.S. market place, a large investment is required, time to market would be very long, and the technology also is not mature. Interestingly, the two electrical generating plants (the large, central station plant and the smaller, local generating plant) are judged to be nearly identical by trading off the better cost of electricity for the larger plant versus the smaller investment, shorter technical maturity, and shorter time to market of the smaller plant.

This analysis should not be considered as a final evaluation result; rather it is intended to be used as a tool to assess the relative merits of each product. It helps highlight where improvements could be made to enhance the value, merit, and perception of the product. As the fusion technology advances, the maturity of the product developments improve, investment strategies change, and public needs evolve, this tool could be altered to reassess the attractiveness of the alternate fusion products.

The results of the fusion application assessment would suggest that it might be beneficial to further investigate and develop the higher ranked products such as transmutation of nuclear waste, dissociation of difficult chemical compounds, production of hydrogen fuels, detection and remote sensing, and propulsion for interplanetary transfer and deep space probes. Some of the alternate fusion confinement schemes and advanced fuels may be well suited to these applications.


[1] R. L. Miller and the ARIES Team, "Fusion power plant economics" Proceedings of the Twelfth Topical Meeting on the Technology of Fusion Energy, ANS, December 1996.

[2] R. J. DeBellis and Z. A. Sabri, "Fusion power: status and options," EPRI Report ER-510-SR, June 1977.

[3] G. L. Kulcinski, "Near term commercial opportunities from long range fusion research," Twelfth Topical Meeting on the Technology of Fusion Power, 16-20 June 1996, Reno, NV.

[4] Keeney and Rafiffa, Decisions with Multiple Objectives, John Wiley & Sons, 1976. .


* Work supported by the US Department of Energy under contract DE-AC03-95ER-54299 and UCSD Purchase Order 10087872.

** Institutions participating in the ARIES Team, in addition The Boeing Company, include Argonne National Laboratory, General Atomics, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, Raytheon Engineers and Constructors, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, University of California-San Diego, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Boeing Home | Associated Products & Services
Copyright 1997 McDonnell Douglas Corporation - All rights reserved