General Fusion is crowdsourcing part of its prototype reactor

The Burnaby, B.C.-based firm is offering US$20,000 to fix an issue falling outside its core expertise

General Fusion's test-scale generator. (General Fusion)

General Fusion’s test-scale generator. (General Fusion)

General Fusion, the Canadian company dedicated to building a viable nuclear fusion reactor, has opted to crowdsource a solution to one of its non-core engineering problems. Through InnoCentive, a Massachusetts-based crowdsourcing agency, the company has offered a reward of US$20,000 to anyone who comes up with a seal for its fusion system that will withstand withering impacts, pressure, heat and rapid repetition.

“It’s our first try at finding a solution this way. I don’t expect it will be our last,” says Michael Delage, vice-president, technology and corporate strategy. “This is one way of doing open innovation,” he adds, noting that in other instances the company opted to collaborate with researchers at universities to address particular scientific and engineering challenges. Developmental tasks involving its core competency of plasma physics or on a tight timeline are best tackled in-house, he says. Crowdsourcing has been employed by organizations including NASA, GE and Pfizer to help develop their technology.

“Given enough time we expect we could solve it,” Delage says of the seal issue, but tapping the broad expertise of Innocentive’s 355,000 registered “solvers” may elicit a more elegant—or cost-effective—solution. The company has compiled a list of other challenges it could put out to tender, depending in part on the success of this first experiment in crowdsourcing. So far 123 developers or groups have expressed interest in taking on the seal challenge, officially described as “Method for sealing anvil under repetitive impacts against molten metal.” The submissions will be vetted first by Innocentive, then evaluated by a senior engineering team at General Fusion.

The company aims over the next few years to begin building a full-scale prototype of its magnetized target fusion reactor. “We have to nail the pieces at the subsystem level first,” Delage says. “We’re keen to see what comes out of the [crowdsourcing] process.”