More has been invested in nuclear fusion in the past twelve months than the prior decade, raising hopes of breakthrough in clean energy technology.
$2.8bn [£2.5bn] has poured into the sector globally over the past twelve months, compared to about $2bn over the past decade, according to new industry figures.
The Fusion Industry Association said more than 93pc of companies who responded to its survey believe that fusion power will be feeding electricity into power grids by the 2030s.
Andrew Holland, chief executive of the trade group, said fusion “is on a pathway to commercial relevance, at a time when the world desperately needs new clean energy options.”
He added: “With investment accelerating, it is increasingly likely that commercial fusion will become a reality within the next two decades, providing the basis for prosperity, safety, and security, for many years to come.”
Scientists have for decades tried to use nuclear fusion to produce electricity at usable scale.
The process involves fusing nuclei together, which throws off energy.
The reaction powers the Sun, and in theory could supply abundant, clean energy on Earth.
In practice, replicating the reaction on Earth is fiendishly difficult, requiring huge amounts of heat and pressure.
Scientists have not yet managed to produce more energy from the reaction than it takes to trigger the reaction.
They are making progress, however, with scientists achieving a record 59 megajoules of energy, enough to boil about 60 kettles, in experiments at a facility in Culham, near Oxford this year.
The UK is home to some of the world’s leading fusion prospects, such as Tokamak Energy and First Light Fusion, both based in Oxford.
First Light Fusion raised $45m (£33m) in February from investors including the Chinese technology giant Tencent, bringing outside backing for the venture, founded in 2011, to $107m.
The UK Government backs the technology, with the UK Atomic Energy Authority working on plans for a prototype fusion power plant in the UK.
Boris Johnson, outgoing prime minister, said in 2019 that scientists in Oxford were “on the verge of creating commercially viable miniature fusion reactors for sale around the world”.
He added: “Now I know they have been on the verge for some time. It is a pretty spacious kind of verge.”
Last year he called the technology an “exciting innovation that could super-charge our efforts to #BuildBackGreener.”
The Fusion Industry Association said eight new companies have entered the race for fusion over the past twelve months.
Investment in fusion remains relatively small compared to mainstream energy sources.