Towards Commercial Fusion: Innovation, Technology Roadmapping for Start-ups, and Critical Natural Resource Availability

Pearson, Richard John (2020). Towards Commercial Fusion: Innovation, Technology Roadmapping for Start-ups, and Critical Natural Resource Availability. PhD thesis The Open University.



Nuclear fusion, a potentially world-changing energy source, has been the subject of dedicated research for over half a century. With a focus on scientific research, development has principally been via publicly funded programmes led by government laboratories in which strategy and innovation are largely overlooked. Consequently, and without intention, the commercial aspects of development on such programmes are left until later, and routes that are not well-suited to commercialisation are pursued. The recent emergence of privately funded fusion start-ups with the explicit goal of commercialisation is disrupting the fusion innovation paradigm. The purpose of this thesis is to characterise the fusion start-up innovation approach and to apply Technology Roadmapping to help fusion start-ups overcome challenges in the commercialisation process. Strategic challenges in the availability, supply, and use of critical natural resources are specifically analysed. The research takes an interdisciplinary engineering systems approach, using mixed methods to connect innovation, technology management and strategy to the fusion paradigm. The thesis deploys innovation theory via contextual analysis, with parallels to the space exploration sector, to find that fusion start-ups operate on an agile innovation model. Technology Roadmapping is applied to a fusion start-up case study with Tokamak Energy Ltd, and the process is adapted to the hardware-based agile innovation approach. The impact of roadmapping on planning, innovation management and communication are examined. Via forecasting models and literature-based analysis, key commercial challenges for critical fusion resources – specifically deuterium, tritium, lithium-6, beryllium, lead and helium – are characterised. A new innovation space for commercial tritium breeding blankets is identified. In conclusion, this thesis characterises a paradigm shift in fusion commercialisation. It provides a framework for the innovation approach, an applied roadmapping process, and highlights key resource criteria yielding recommendations to drive commercial fusion missions forward.

Viewing alternatives

Download history


Public Attention

Altmetrics from Altmetric

Number of Citations

Citations from Dimensions

Item Actions