Nuclear Fusion Company Helion Energy and Others Get ARPA-E Funding

ARPA-E has provided a combined $30 million in funding for nuclear projects

Helion Energy – Staged Magnetic Compression of FRC Targets to Fusion Conditions received $3,971,264 in funding

Helion Energy will investigate staged magnetic compression of field-reversed configuration (FRC) plasmas, building on past successes to develop a prototype that can attain higher temperatures and fuel density than previously possible. The team will use these results to assess the viability of scaling to a power reactor, which if successful would offer the benefits of simple linear geometry, attractive scaling, and compatibility with modern pulsed power electronics.

Key Benefits of Helion’s Approach

* 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.
* Modular, Distributed Power: A container sized, 50 MW module for base load power generation.
* Self-Supplied Helium 3 Fusion: 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.
* Safe: With no possibility of melt-down, or hazardous nuclear waste, fusion does not suffer the drawbacks that make fission an unattractive alternative.

Stabilized Liner Compressor (SLC) for Low-Cost Fusion received $4 million in funding

NumerEx, LLC, teamed with the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Los Alamos, NM, will develop the Stabilized Liner Compressor (SLC) concept in which a rotating, liquid metal liner is imploded by high pressure gas. Free-piston drive and liner rotation avoid instabilities as the liner compresses and heats a plasma target. If successful, this concept could scale to an attractive fusion reactor with efficient energy recovery, and therefore a low required minimum fusion gain for net energy output. The SLC will address several challenges faced by practical fusion reactors. By surrounding the plasma target with a thick liquid liner, the SLC helps avoid materials degradation associated with a solid plasma-facing first wall. In addition, with an appropriately chosen liner material, the SLC can simultaneously provide a breeding blanket to create more tritium fuel, allow efficient heat transport out of the reactor, and shield solid components of the reactor from high-energy neutrons.

LANL – HyperV – Spherically Imploding Plasma Liners as a Standoff Magneto-Inertial-Fusion Driver got $5.5 million

Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), teamed with Hyper V Technologies and a multi-institutional team, will develop a plasma-liner driver formed by merging supersonic plasma jets produced by an array of coaxial plasma guns. This concept allows “standoff” driver formation far from the fusion burn region (separated by several meters), which avoids destruction of plasma formation and compression hardware in a repetitively pulsed fusion reactor (beyond the ALPHA program). This non-destructive approach may enable rapid, low cost research and development and, by avoiding replacement of solid components on every shot, may help lead to an economically attractive power reactor. This project will seek to demonstrate, for the first time, the formation of a small scale spherically imploding plasma liner in order to obtain critical data on plasma liner uniformity and ram pressure scaling. If successful, this concept will provide a versatile, high-implosion-velocity driver for intermediate fuel density magneto-inertial fusion that is potentially compatible with several plasma targets.

HyperV – Minirailguns designed to accelerate 8000 micrograms of argon or xenon to 50 km/s are being developed for the PLX project at LANL.

Nextbigfuture covered the mini-railgun approach to nuclear fusion in 2011.

HyperV Technologies is trying to develop minirailguns for the world’s first commercially viable fusion reactor technology. Their research could result in the development of a controlled hot fusion reactor that is scalable to provide between 100 MW and 2,000 MW of clean base load electric power.

They are firing milligrams of plasma at 140 times the speed of sound. The commercial energy generating version will fire the plasmas at 285 times the speed of sound. The breakeven nuclear fusion facilities will cost less than $100 million.

Demonstrating Fuel Magnetization and Laser Heating Tools for Low-Cost Fusion Energy ($3.8 million)

Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) and the Laboratory for Laser Energetics at the University of Rochester (LLE) will investigate the compression and heating of high energy density, magnetized plasmas at fusion relevant conditions, building on the recent successes of the Magnetized Liner Inertial Fusion (MagLIF) concept. SNL and LLE will conduct focused experiments based on the MagLIF approach at both SNL and LLE facilities, targeting key physics challenges in the intermediate density regime. The team will also exploit and enhance a suite of simulation and numerical design tools validated by these experiments. Through this project, the team will provide critical information for improved compression and heating performance as well as insights on loss mechanisms and instabilities for hot, dense, magnetized plasmas. This information will help accelerate the development of the MagLIF concept, and will also inform the continued development of intermediate density approaches across the ALPHA program portfolio.

MEMS Based Ion Beam Drivers for Magnetized Target Fusion ($2.2 million)

Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory (LBNL), in close collaboration with Cornell University, will develop a scalable ion beam driver based on microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) technology. MEMS technology is compatible with massively parallel, low cost batch fabrication and has become widely used in the fabrication of components for consumer electronics. Ion beams are commonly used in research laboratories and manufacturing, but currently available ion accelerator technology cannot deliver the required beam intensities at low enough cost to drive an economical fusion reactor. In the LBNL-Cornell approach, thousands of mini ion “beamlets” will be densely packed on silicon wafers. Ions will be injected and accelerated across gaps formed in stacks of wafers, leading to extremely high current densities for intense ion beams with tunable kinetic energy, suitable for driving a variety of potential plasma targets to fusion conditions.