Helion Energy has an update on their project to achieve commercial nuclear fusion.
Helion Energy uses Magneto-Inertial Fusion: By combining the stability of steady magnetic fusion and the heating of pulsed inertial fusion, a commercially practical system has been realized that is smaller and lower cost than existing programs.
They want to create modular, distributed Power using shipping container sized, 50 Megawatt modules for base load power generation. (Nextbigfuture note – The longest shipping containers are 17 meters long and Helion talks about being 25-28 meters long)
They are using Self-Supplied Helium 3 Fusion. It is pulsed, D-He3 fusion simplifies the engineering of a fusion power plant, lowers costs, and is even cleaner than traditional fusion.
Magnetic Compression: Fuel is compressed and heated purely by magnetic fields operated with modern solid state electronics.
This eliminates inefficient, expensive laser, piston, or beam techniques used by other fusion approaches.
Direct Energy Conversion: Enabled by pulsed operation, efficient direct conversion decreases plant costs and fusion’s engineering challenges.
It is safe: With no possibility of melt-down, or hazardous nuclear waste, fusion dose not suffer the drawbacks that make fission an unattractive alternative.
Helion plans to substantially improve their Fusion Engine for 2016 and have commercially capable system by 2019
Helion Energy Technical Achievements
* Reactor scale plasmas with lifetimes greater than 1 ms
* Fusion grade plasmas at greater than 5 keV ion temperatures
* Developed complete self-supplied He3 fuel cycle
* Demonstrated repetitively pulsed high field magnets at 20 Tesla
* External validation of cost and scaling models
ARPA-E had a review of Helion Energy (along with several other nuclear fusion projects)
ARPA- hard challenges:
‣ Recirculating power. Reclaiming 90% of power from the magnetic field into a capacitor. Inductive losses may be significant
‣ Need to understand how to do switching for a rep- rated system that lasts for a long time.
‣Wall lifetime: Estimates from 1 month to 1 year.
Questions: Regions for Economical Fusion
‣ Locate the proposed concept in the fusion parameter space
– 6 x 10 ^22 per m 3, T: 9keV , mag field: 12 T
– Two FRC plasmoids are dynamically formed by sequential field reversal
– Acceleration – FRC plasmoids are accelerated to high velocities (over 300 km/s)
– Merging – Two supersonic plasmoids collide and merge converting kinetic into ion thermal energy
– Compression – FRC is adiabatically compressed to fusion temperatures
– Energy Generation – Spent plasma, fusion ions, and neutrons are converted to energy
Questions: Regions for Economical Fusion
‣Characterize the target
– Density: 6 x 10^22 per meter cubed(after compression)
– Temperature: 9 keV , (after compression)
– Size: 3 meters diameter, (plasma)
– Device: 25 meters by 3 meters,
– Magnetic field: 12 Tesla
– Energy: 10 MJ in the plasma
– Compression ratio: not applicable
Questions: Regions for Economical Fusion
‣ Quantify the critical parameters for the driver
– Magnetic field coils at 25 MJ and 2 Hz. Outstanding question: is it within current solid state technology?
– Energy : 25 MJ
– Power density (W/cm2): 8 MW/m 2
– Velocity: (not inertial — meaningless)
– Pressure: 12 Tesla
–Symmetry : (cylindrical, but not really applicable
– Pulse width: 3 ms
‣ What is the projected fusion gain for these target and driver parameters?
‣ 10, for scientific gain defined as yield/energy in the plasma. Engineering gain? Subject of debate.
Helion Energy’s Fusion Engine is the only demonstrated fusion energy source capable of producing both on demand and baseload power at low cost and with minimal environmental impact. Employing a patented staged electromagnetic compressor and direct energy conversion, the Fusion Engine efficiently harnesses fusion energy employing fuel derived solely from water. This IAEA award winning and DOE validated prototype generated the required fusion energy output that allows for commercialization of economical fusion by 2019. By removing complex tritium systems and steam turbines, the Fusion Engine can be constructed faster and with reduced capital costs. And unlike current nuclear systems, Helion’s fusion technology is inherently safe and generates only clean byproducts. Helion holds the key to unlock the long sought after promise of endless fusion energy.
They got $5 million from DOE and are raising $35 million. The chief researcher John Slough also has a NASA funded direct fusion rocket project.
The Fusion Engine will Enable Profitable Fusion Energy in 2019
Developed by Engineers to be Commercially Practical
Fast, affordable development (50 MW module, truck-sized)
Fusion is clean, safe, and generates no hazardous byproducts
Fusion energy is converted directly to electricity, eliminating capital costs
Uses demonstrated physics
Fusion Engine technology supported by DOE Office of Fusion Energy
IAEA best of peer reviewed fusion paper – 2011
Field leading advocates and independent validation
4th prototype operational in Redmond, WA
How the Fusion Engine Works
Formation -Plasma is generated by ionizing gas in a Field Reversed Configuration
Accelerator -Plasma is accelerated to high velocities using pulsed magnetic fields
Collision -Two plasmas are collided and compressed to transfer kinetic energy to heat
Burn Chamber -Conditions are formed to initiate fusion of fuel
Energy Generation -Fusion plasma is converted to i) direct energy ii) fuel for further operation
The annual worldwide expenditure on electricity is over 3 trillion dollars. It is estimated that over 25 trillion dollars will be invested by 2030 to meet this increasing demand. The Fusion Engine is scalable and compatible with centralized and distributed infrastructure and can access new undeveloped and remote markets. The market is currently lacking a carbon free source of electricity that can meet demand for baseload and on demand power.
Helion Energy is uniquely qualified to succeed in bringing the Fusion Engine to market:
* Helion’s technology is the only proven, practical, reactor assembly in existence with greater fusion output than any private competitor.
* The Fusion Engine was designed from the ground up to be a competitive commercial device, yet is based on demonstrated physics, technologies and Helion’s patented scientific breakthrough.
* The world renowned scientific and technical team has a deep knowledge of the science, and unique experience in the technologies and the scales required for a commercial reactor.
* The science of the Fusion Engine has been rigorously demonstrated and peer reviewed.
* Helion has radically reduced risk by validating the technology with over $5 M in DOE funding.
* The Fusion Engine is compact (semi-truck sized) will be able to generate lower cost electricity than current baseload power sources.
* The management team won the 2013 National Cleantech Open Energy Generation competition and awards at the 2014 ARPA-E Future Energy Startup competition.
Helion Energy’s long term strategy is to generate revenue based on a royalty model of electricity produced with projected electricity prices of 40-60 $/MWhr (4 to 6 cents per kwh). Penetration of the new capacity market is estimated at 20% of market growth (2.5%) per annum eventually reaching 50% of new power generation worldwide – $52 B/yr. Gradual displacement of existing plants provides for continued growth to 20% of world electrical generation after 20 years with a net return of over $300 billion.
Early revenue is generated by sale of electricity produced by the pilot plant. Acquisition and exit opportunities exist after pilot plant operation in 2019.
Capital Requirements – Financials
Helion Energy’s technology has received $4+ M non-dilutive U.S. Department of Energy seed funding to demonstrate the concept at increasing scales. The team has contributed another $100k towards business development and ongoing technology development. Helion Energy is seeking a $35M Series B. This three year round has several funding gates and will demonstrate a reactor scale fusion core that will exceed the performance of any fusion energy source ever built. Series B will also demonstrate direct electricity generation and finalize the commercial power plant design. Subsequently, a commercial 50 MW pilot plant will be constructed over a two year period .
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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