Nextbigfuture Interviewed Helion Energy CEO David Kirtley

Nextbigfuture interviewed Helion Energy CEO David Kirtley. An NSF, NASA, and DOD fellow, Dr. Kirtley has 13 years of experience in nuclear engineering, fusion, and aerospace and holds Nuclear and Aerospace Engineering degrees from the University of Michigan. He leads the MSNW propulsion research and development, serves as Helion’s CEO, and has raised and managed many high technology programs.

Helion Energy is trying to achieve commercial Magneto-Inertial Fusion. This combines 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. Helion Energy will be magnetically accelerating plasmas together and then compressing them once per second.

Helion Energy has raised $2 million from Mithril Capital Management and Y Combinator.

They plan to perform the remaining research and experiments to enable to final design of their breakeven Fusion engine.

The breakeven machine will need about $35 million in funding (2015-2016) and the target is to develop it in 2016.

If all proceeds on schedule then a Helion Energy machine that that proves commercial energy gain would be a 50 Megawatt system built in 2019. $200 million will be needed for the commercial pilot plant. The plan would be to start building commercial systems by 2022.

Dr David Kirtley kindly indicated that he felt the discussions on Nextbigfuture were the most technically interesting.

Previously there was talk about creating a fusion engine to help burn fission waste (unburned fission fuel). It would need to produce a lot of neutrons. this turned out to be more difficult and less practical.

Now the work indicates that aneutronic Helium 3 – Deuterium is the best path forward.

2D+3He→ 4He+ 1p+ 18.3 MeV

Prototypes every two years

Another view of the fourth prototype

Tri-alpha Energy’s system looks similar to Helion Energy. What is similar and different ?

Tri-alpha energy also creates and merges plasmoids. However, Tri-alpha sustains the merged plasmoids with colliding beams.

Helion Energy will be magnetically accelerating plasmas together and then compressing them once per second.

What recent technological advances have helped Helion Energy ?

Newly available electronics technologies have enabled a revolutionary design to make fusion a commercial reality. The power switching electronics in Wind turbines and in other energy systems helps Helion Energy.

In the future if better superconducting batteries and materials are created it would allow improved Helion Energy reactors that are smaller and more powerful. Current technology is sufficient for the 2019 design. It is a matter of engineering the details correctly.

How does the University of Washington, MSNW LLC and Helion Energy work fit together ?

University of Washington is where the basic scientific research is done.
MSNW LLC is for the SBIR and other grant work and to prove out work that could potentially be commercialized.
Helion Energy is for the commercial venture funded nuclear fusion development.

Helion plans to substantially improve their Fusion Engine for 2016 and have commercially capable system by 2019

Tthe dots on the graph, HF 2012 (Helion Fusion 2012) and IPA HF 2013 (Inductive Plasma Accelerator High Field 2013) are their prototype performance. They want to get the 10 tesla performance about 20 times better for the breakeven 2016 device. They will go to 12 tesla for the 2019 version.

The vertical axis is the poloidal flux

Ge on the graph is the gain. So Helion energy is at about 20% now. Targeting between 1 and 2 in 2016 and a gain of 10 in 2019.

Helion Energy’s approach will be 10 times faster and 1000 times cheaper than ITER

Fusion has long held the promise of being such an energy source, but it’s never delivered. Big government projects have either stalled or have spent billions of dollars chasing difficult-to-commercialize solutions.

The team at Helion is combining their years of experience in fusion, newly available electronics technologies, and a revolutionary design to make fusion a commercial reality.

Helion Energy came up with a new approach and by leveraging $5M from the Department of Energy they proved the technology in a series of breakthrough prototypes that are generating Deuterium-Deuterium fusion today at a small scale. This success gave them a significant technical lead over their competitors and, with additional backing from Mithril Capital (Peter Thiel and Ajay Royan’s firm) and Y Combinator, they increased performance by a factor of 25.

Helion’s technology operates in a promising new region, midway between steady magnetic and inertial fusion. The Fusion Engine works like a diesel engine with electromagnets in place of moving pistons. Fuel is injected and compressed with magnetic fields. It fuses and the expanding particle energy is directly converted to electricity, pulsing once per second.

Helion’s Fusion Engine, if it works, will not produce radioactive waste and will not put Carbon into the atmosphere. It will be safer than nuclear fission, will only require plentiful Deuterium as a new fuel input (Helium-3 is captured and reused), and will end energy dependence on other nations.

This wouldn’t have been possible ten years ago. Recent advancements in high power electronics, developed for space propulsion and the smart grid, is what enable Helion’s Fusion Engine.

There are four major private companies competing in the fusion space. Helion’s reaction is 1000 times easier to achieve than the reactions other clean fusion companies are pursuing. Helion’s pulsed approach enables us to take advantage of advanced Helium-3 fuels and by capturing the alpha particle energy directly the company eliminates the need for steam turbines and cooling towers (and the associated energy losses).

The best-funded competitor is the multinational fusion program, ITER, located on 40 acres in Cadarache, France. By capitalizing on small, pulsed magnetic, fusion Helion can reach profitable energy generation in a fraction of the time and cost. Helion plans to reach breakeven energy generation in less than three years with just a few tens of millions of dollars; this is nearly 10 times faster and more than 1000 times cheaper than ITER.

Independent estimates are that Helion’s wholesale electricity will be approximately 2 cents per kilowatt-hour, which means electricity could be sold to consumers for around 4 cents.

Competitive Advantage

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.

Revenue Model
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.