Helion Energy’s Nuclear Fusion Updates on Twitter

Helion Energy has been working to make a pulsed commercial nuclear fusion generator 1,000 times smaller, over 500 times cheaper, and realizable 10 times faster than other approaches. Helion Energy received $10.6 million in 2015.

Helion is creating technology it calls “The Fusion Engine,” which would use helium from engine exhaust, according to the company’s website. The helium, along with deuterium fuel from seawater, would be heated to become plasma and then compressed with magnetic fields to reach fusion temperature, which is more than 100 million degrees.

Helion Energy has become quite active on twitter announcing new devices and advances.

They have made a new Turbomolecular pumps.

44 thoughts on “Helion Energy’s Nuclear Fusion Updates on Twitter”

  1. Fusion chases the triple product of density, confinement time, and plasma temperature

    For the deuterium–tritium reaction, the triple product value at T = 14 keV is about 3x 10^21 keV s/m^3

    Using Skipjack’s figures that means ARPA-E got about 8×10^20

    which is almost there, but the temp was a bit low so the triple product at that temp needs to be a bit higher (no I don’t know how much, but something like a factor of 10).

    On the other hand if they are using deuterium-He3 then the target is a fair bit higher, and with a higher temperature requirement too.

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  2. Was able to correct it. Thanks for pointing that out. That is what happens when I type, while people talk to me from two sides 😉

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  3. Whoa whoa, you are a bit off-the original timeline was proof of a Q greater than 1 by this year-funding issues delayed them somewhat, the recent spate of suggestive postings on twitter are encouraging, but we are years away from maybe seeing a power creating prototype, barring a massive breakthrough. I am intrigued, but lets not expect a miracle.

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  4. I used to go hiking with Guenter Janeschitz who is now the lead scientist at ITER, when I was a kid. He told us about the progress they were making at JET at the time (when he was still there). That sparked a life long interest in fusion.

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  5. Yeah, for real. The more I look into this, the more I’m convinced that success by this group would blow people’s minds. Didn’t realize they had been part of ARPA-E. Ten points to Gryffindor for legitimacy lol.

    The only thing I have to do now, is not be too impatient. I’ve been all rosie-eyed over the possibility fusion power since I was probably ten years old when my dad first mentioned it to me. So, for almost three decades. xD

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  6. Their ARPA-E Alpha program work is a good resource.
    From the top of my head, they were at ~1ms confinement, 10^23/m3 plasma density and (I believe) 8 keV temperature with their previous prototype “Venti”. Neutron production was twice the expected number.
    The results were encouraging enough to cut work on Venti short to go straight to full scale.

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  7. I don’t find many details of what they have achieved. Do you have some good source? On their home page, they wrote that they have reached 1ms plasma containment time, not that that tells me much….

    Though I know there are metrics that allow comparing different fusion reactions. Something like density*temperature*confinement time…? Anyhow, I would like to see how their experiment compares to a standard tokamak experiment.

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  8. John, there are 23 startups in the fusion field right now that would disagree with you. Helion aims for a commercial reactor by 2025, (website status 2019) That is assuming ideal funding and other circumstances, of course. They are currently operating a full scale prototype. So I assume that we will see some interesting results from that sooner than most people would expect.

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  9. Helion aims to fuse Deuterium to produce Helium3 which can then be fused with more Deuterium to produce more energy than from the Deuterium reaction alone.
    Not sure if you were referring to that.
    Generally fusion will only produce waste through neutron activated components. Those are not really a big problem though and very short lived.
    Reactors like Helion’s will also produce Tritium, but that can be stored safely somewhere until it decays into more Helium3 (for use in the reactor) or sold. It is a very expensive isotope that is in high demand for all sorts of applications (medical, aerospace, military, etc).
    What’s more is that Helion’s reactor design can be modified to transmute fission waste products so that they can be used as fuel in a fission reactor.

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  10. Their current prototype is full scale and is operational now.
    Their website says that they want to have a first commercial reactor ready in six years. Of course that assumes adequate funding and otherwise ideal circumstances.

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  11. Philosophy of science is not the same as nuclear engineering. Also, the inventor of the device John Slough has been a professor at the UW for years. Both him and David Kirtley have dozens of peer reviewed publications in the field and especially on FRCs which this concept is based on.
    Also note that Helion had research funded as part of the ARPA-E Alpha program and they met or exceeded all of their milestones there.
    And this is not cold fusion, but hot fusion, which is based on established physics.

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  12. Equating a long-standing plasma physics researcher with multiple relevant degrees and reams of published papers to a notorious fraudster who picked up a humanities degree with a vague science focus seems…disingenuous? i actually said that we shouldn’t assume his approach will work due to his qualifications,only that the effort is a genuine one-i’ve seen no evidence that Helion Energy is a scam. Have you?

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  13. I understand your skepticism, but this is a serious company-Mr. Kirtley has a Masters in Nuclear Engineering and a PhD in Aerospace Engineering, and worked for NASA and the Airforce as a researcher, as well as doing academic research at the University of Michigan Plasmadynamics Laboratory. That’s not to say his approach will necessarily result in economical fusion-that would be an argument from authority-but rest assured the effort is a legitimate one and not the ravings of a crank lacking any science background.

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  14. This is legit. They were part of the ARPA-E Alpha Program and met (or exceeded) all of their milestones until Phase 3, when they decided to drop out to build their full scale reactor instead of continuing work on their Alpha prototype “Venti”.

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  15. In thirty years, everything you say about fission, and fusion, will still be true, being based on physics and common sense. By that time, CO2 levels, at current rates, will be about 90 ppm higher than now – probably more, the way it’s trending. The few scientists who tell the Right that that doesn’t matter are mostly emeritus now, and by then will be post-emeritus. Will the Left still be dominated by what my favourite blogger calls ‘rote anti-nuclear’ dinosaurs like Bernie Sanders ? Unlikely – Jim Conca claims most Dem contenders are already open to listen to nuclear reason.
    https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2019/08/08/nuclear-power-and-the-2020-presidential-candidates/#5185c33e6c5d

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  16. Very true. Another example is automobiles versus airplanes. There are people who are afraid to fly because it’s unsafe; automobile accidents kill more people per year than plane crashes.

    That’s what I want. I want fusion to be safer than what we have now. Not necessarily because what we have now is incredibly unsafe– but simply because safer is always better. Safer and more efficient. I’m also under the impression that some forms of fusion generation could use their own waste products as fuel. If anyone can verify that, I’m interested.

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  17. Fusion will be safer than fission because it will never produce any energy ( where ‘never’ and ‘any’ mean soon enough, and enough to matter.)

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  18. I want to know more about those 3d printed high voltage plastic zener diodes and I’m curious why they would call them zeners while also claiming they only conduct in one direction. The definition of a zener is a relatively known reverse voltage avalanche point.

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  19. Word. Been hearing this my entire life.
    But I do recognize that the research does provide discoveries which make into the commercial realm- such as the improved turbopumps. Gonna read up more on the zener thing.

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  20. Maybe. Probably. But why not try things like this. For a few $10M a pop it’s worth trying different approaches – the traditional brute force ones have remained in Sisyphus hell.

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  21. Helion wants to be competitive with natural gas.
    Also their reaction is mostly neutron free and their reactor design does not need super conductors.

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  22. Well considering that they are currently experimenting with a full scale prototype, things may actually look a lot better than you think.

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  23. Yikes. >_> Yeah I’ve wondered about the neutrons produced. I’ve also always found it bizarre that anyone could say ANY kind of nuclear reaction could be totally safe. If it does turn out to cost too much for too little, and it’s still not completely safe compared to what we’ve got now, people will definitely be displeased. Especially after hype.

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  24. My basis for expecting it to be uneconomical is because it requires high vacuum and superconducting magnets in close proximity to radiation sources.

    It just promises to be an expensive, finicky maintenance nightmare.

    Fission is much more robust, easier to do. Basically the only problem it’s got is that anti-nuclear hysteria has resulted in enormously excessive safety features pushing the cost up, especially when they get altered partway through and cause schedules to slip.

    Even most supposedly “aneutronic” fusion fuels usually involve side reactions that produce some neutrons. So the dreaded radioactivity will still be present.

    Like I said, as soon as somebody gets it working, the watermelons will turn on it. They only support fusion so they can pretend that they’re not opposed to nuclear power as such, just to fission for reasons.

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  25. Would it be uneconomical because there would not be enough money to be made from it, or because it would have to overturn current industry, or something else? Granted, that kind of power seems rather like a unicorn in some cases. It’s usually presented like a never-ending jar of your favorite candy.

    But, while I’m not entirely skeptical that it’s possible, I have to wonder the effects of displacing current industry.

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  26. The ITER approach would be crazy expensive, but if a (mostly) aneutronic design like Helion’s works out, it’s likely to be quite economical.

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  27. Yes, some day, maybe only 20-30 years from now, we’ll reach the point where fusion is merely wildly uneconomical, instead of impossible.

    That’s when the watermelons of the left will abandon it.

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  28. Cynicism is rational with fusion, but do remember that progress in every aspect of the process has been steady. And breakthroughs do sometimes happen. Keep an open mind, but not to open your brain falls out.

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  29. Helion may actually use direct energy conversion. They’re using a hybrid D-D/D-He3 reaction, which they say releases only 6% of its energy as neutrons. The rest is mostly fast-moving charged particles.

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  30. When I see things like this, I can’t help by think we’re almost to the point of no longer requiring the conventional sources of energy that we’ve relied on for centuries. And I’m okay with that.

    Of course, I guess well still need turbines? Unless we make advances in direct energy conversion to electric power, but I’m not up on that enough to mention it beyond this.

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