China leading nuclear fusion tech race

China leads the way when it comes to filing patents in nuclear fusion technology, according to a new study.

China came first in a nuclear fusion patent ranking compiled by Tokyo-based research company Astamuse, ahead of second-placed US, which was followed by the UK and Japan.

The research company ranked 30 countries and regions by studying the 1,133 patents filed between 2011 and September 2022. Each country’s score was calculated by using the number of patents filed, the feasibility of each innovation, and the remaining period of exclusivity, among others.

China was also ranked first in the number of patents, and companies and research institutions that had filed patents in the nuclear fusion field. The number of patents filed by China started to increase from 2015, pushing the country ahead of the US.

Chinese patents were concentrated in the area of practical applications, such as the creation of a ceramic composite material that can be used in the wall of a nuclear fusion reactor. This technology was developed by the Chinese Academy of Sciences and is considered the most important breakthrough in the survey period.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences was ranked second among the organisations covered in the survey, followed by the Southwestern Institute of Physics, an affiliate of China National Nuclear Corp.

Nuclear fusion refers to the energy released from fusing two hydrogen nuclei. The process requires a reactor that can withstand extreme temperatures, in excess of 100 million Celsius, and one that can allow the nuclei to collide with each other.

In December, US scientists announced a major breakthrough, saying that they have produced more energy from a fusion experiment than was put in.

The US ranked second in overall patent score as well as in the number of patents. Seven US companies and institutions made it into the top 20 organisations, the highest among the countries studied.

Commercial companies have led nuclear fusion research in the U.S., including Helion Energy, ranked 12th, and Google at 18th. Helion has patents in efficient power generation from nuclear fusion. Google appears to be working on developing devices to speed up nuclear fusion experiments.