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Novo Nordisk Foundation grants DKK 120 million to advance new technologies for sustainable and continuous energy supply

New projects at Aarhus University and DTU hold potential to significantly advance nuclear energy research. The grants are part of the 2024 Novo Nordisk Foundation Challenge Programme, for which the Foundation has just awarded DKK 359 million.

Despite an increased focus on alternative energy sources, the three traditional fossil fuels – coal, natural gas, and oil – still constitute the majority of global energy consumption, accounting for close to 80% globally and 60% in Denmark. Recognising the critical importance of refraining from using fossil fuels for energy production, there is a need to increase knowledge on other ways to produce energy in a sustainable and continuous manner.

Through its 2024 Challenge Programme, the Novo Nordisk Foundation has allocated significant funding to two innovative research projects aimed at addressing essential challenges in energy production based on nuclear processes.

Commenting on the initiative, Lene Oddershede, Senior Vice President of Natural & Technical Sciences at the Novo Nordisk Foundation, said:

“The purpose of the Challenge Programme is to catalyse new fields of research, generate novel ideas, and propel scientific inquiry in vital areas. Establishing solid knowledge on the pros and cons related to energy production based on nuclear processes is imperative given the urgent need for sustainable energy alternatives.”

The Foundation has awarded DKK 60 million each to Professor Anja-Verena Mudring from Aarhus University and Professor Stefan Kragh Nielsen from the Technical University of Denmark (DTU). Their projects were selected based on their potential to significantly advance nuclear energy research and address critical technological and safety challenges.

Oddershede emphasises the current context: “Denmark’s reliance on fossil fuels presents a substantial climate challenge. By supporting these two pioneering projects focused on nuclear fission and nuclear fusion, respectively, we aim to increase knowledge on energy production by non-fossil energy sources. These efforts will help build Danish expertise and strengthen our ability to make informed decisions about nuclear power.”

Oddershede further explains, “Professor Mudring’s project focuses on fission technology and making it as safe as possible, while Professor Nielsen’s project explores fusion technology and its continuous operation. Together, these projects complement each other by addressing respectively fission and fusion, offering a comprehensive approach to nuclear energy research.”

The power of molten salts in achieving a sustainable, safe, and continuous energy supply
Professor Anja-Verena Mudring of Aarhus University has received a DKK 60 million grant for her project, “SMARTER – Salt Melts for Advanced Reactor Technology and Energy Research.” This initiative aims to tackle the critical challenges of providing society with an economical, safe, stable, and sustainable energy solution.

As the world seeks to meet the ambitious goals of the Green Deal, nuclear energy is being reconsidered despite concerns over reactor accidents, nuclear waste, and weapons proliferation. A promising technology known as the molten salt reactor (MSR) was conceptualised as early as the 1950s. MSRs, which confine nuclear fuel within molten salts, offer a potentially safer alternative to traditional reactors. However, significant challenges remain in making this technology viable.

Mudring highlights the unique potential of MSRs, particularly their non-proliferation benefits and enhanced safety features: “The nuclear reactor we aim to investigate is different from current reactors. We want to develop a system where the nuclear material cannot be used to produce weapons. The by-products of our proposed reactors would make any weapon unstable.”

Supported by the Novo Nordisk Foundation, Professor Mudring will bring together a team of experts from Denmark and the United States to address these fundamental issues.

“Receiving this grant is pivotal,” Mudring explains. “It represents a substantial investment in closing the critical knowledge gaps surrounding MSR technology.”

Mudring’s research does not advocate for or against nuclear energy. Instead, it focuses on closing knowledge gaps to enable more informed decisions. The insights gained from this research will also have broader applications, including heat management and thermal energy storage using molten salts. Therefore, the project will contribute to a sustainable future, even if nuclear energy is not adopted.

“Denmark is uniquely positioned to rapidly advance this technology, thanks to its robust and innovative industry. Companies such as Seaborg Technologies and Copenhagen Atomics are investing in molten salt reactor technology, while firms like Hyme Energy and Aalborg CSP are exploring power-to-salts solutions. This project marks a significant step towards leveraging molten salts for a safer, more sustainable energy supply, ensuring that Denmark remains at the forefront of this critical field,” Mudring states.

Ensuring continuous operation of fusion power plants
Professor Stefan Kragh Nielsen from the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) has been awarded DKK 60 million for his ambitious project, “Enabling Continuously Operating Nuclear Fusion Power Plants.” This research aims to ensure the continuous operation of fusion power plants by developing innovative methods to drive currents in tokamak reactors using electromagnetic waves, which are crucial for sustaining the fusion processes necessary for uninterrupted power generation.

“This is the largest grant ever awarded for this type of research in Denmark,” Nielsen says. “It means we can truly upscale and challenge some of our ideas, testing concepts that we could only explore on a limited scale before. This grant allows us to build a culture in Denmark that can compete on a global level, potentially becoming world-leading in this field.”

Nielsen’s project is inspired by a recent breakthrough, in which the energy generated by nuclear fusion surpassed the energy used to sustain the plasma in experimental devices. For fusion power plants to become practical, these processes must be sustained continuously, eliminating the need for additional backup generators or large energy storage facilities. The research will focus on understanding and mitigating the risks associated with non-linear interactions between current-driving waves and plasma, which could otherwise reduce efficiency and jeopardise the operation of fusion power plants.

“Our goal is to develop predictive models and validate them through experiments to ensure the reliable operation of fusion power plants,” Nielsen explains. “This research is crucial for advancing fusion technology as a sustainable and continuous energy source.”

The core of Nielsen’s project is to find ways to make plasma more stable and generate magnetic fields continuously. Current designs allow only short operation periods. Nielsen and his team have several ideas on how to generate these fields sustainably and will systematically test them to determine the most effective method, which will be crucial for future fusion power plants.

The project is international, with its roots in Denmark and collaborations with partners from Oxford in the United Kingdom and Lausanne in Switzerland. The research will employ theoretical work and advanced numerical simulations to construct a predictive model. Additionally, a unique experimental facility will be created at the Technical University of Denmark to test predictions for different types of current drive waves. Full model validation will take place on the TCV tokamak at EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland, and the MAST-U tokamak at the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) in Oxford.

“We will conduct the initial tests and develop the first theories here in Denmark,” Nielsen explained. “Once we have the preliminary results, we will move to larger facilities in Switzerland and the United Kingdom to install equipment and conduct large-scale tests.”

This international collaboration and the establishment of advanced experimental facilities will position Denmark as a significant player in the global effort to make continuous fusion power a reality.

Six grants awarded
Established in 2014, the Novo Nordisk Foundation Challenge Programme supports ambitious research projects addressing global challenges.

This year it had three themes, with the Foundation awarding a total of DKK 359 million to six projects:

Theme 1: Integrating safety and environmental sustainability impacts of bio-based solutions

  • Nina Cedergreen, University of Copenhagen. “Environmental safety of biotechnological plant protection products based on short interfering RNA and peptides; ENSAFE” (DKK 60 million over 6 years)
  • Søren Sørensen, University of Copenhagen. “Evaluating microbiome-based applications for risk quantification: EMBARQ” (DKK 59.3 million over 6 years)

Theme 2: Disentangling insulin resistance

  • Jørgen Wojtaszewski, University of Copenhagen. “Defining the Human Insulin Resistance Molecular Network; SIGNATURE” (DKK 59.9 million over 6 years)
  • Henrik Larsson, Rigshospitalet. “Disentangling the effect of Brain Insulin Resistance on Brain Health: The BIR-BrainHealth Project” (DKK 59.6 million over 6 years)

Theme 3: Novel or emerging technologies for sustainable and continuous energy supply

  • Stefan Kragh Nielsen, Department of Physics, DTU, “Enabling continuously operating nuclear fusion power plants (DKK 60 million over 6 years)
  • Anja-Verena Mudring, Aarhus University, “SMARTER – Salt Melts for Advanced Reactor Technology and Energy Research” (DKK 60 million over 6 years)

Additional info and 2025 themes
For more information about the Challenge Programme, the 2025 themes and the projects funded, visit

Further information

Kasper Nørgaard
Scientific Director, PhD
+45 3023 1552 [email protected]
Christian Mostrup
Senior Lead, Public Relations
+45 3067 4805 [email protected]