Nuclear Fusion Startup Helion Energy Surpasses 100 Million Degrees Celsius

Helion Energy is the first private company to announce exceeding 100 million degrees Celsius in its sixth fusion generator prototype, Trenta. The Trenta prototype recently finished a 16-month testing campaign, completing almost 10,000 high-power pulses. Helion will be presenting these operational results at the 63rd Annual Meeting of the
APS Division of Plasma Physics.

Nextbigfuture has had many articles covering Helion Energy and Nextbigfuture has interviewed Helion CEO Kirtley in 2014.

Helion Energy raised $30 million in 2018.

Crunchbase reports that Helion Energy has raised about $78 million over six rounds.

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 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.

Everett, Washington-based Helion Energy said the 16-month testing campaign of Trenta “pushed fusion fuel performance to unprecedented levels and performed lifetime and reliability testing on key components of the fusion system”.

In 2020, they completed their 6th prototype, Trenta. Trenta runs nearly every day doing fusion. It has completed almost 10,000 high-power pulses and operated continuously for 16 months. With Trenta, Helion became the first private organization to reach temperatures of 100 million degrees Celsius.

Trenta compresses FRC plasmas to over 8 Tesla and reaches 9 keV (100 million degrees Celsius.) Ion temperatures over 8 keV and electron temperatures over 2 keV.

They estimate that Helion’s fusion power will be one of the lowest-cost sources of electricity.

There are four main components of electricity cost: 1) Capital cost 2) Operating cost 3) Up-time 4) Fuel cost. Helion’s fusion power plant is projected to have negligible fuel cost, low operating cost, high up-time and competitive capital cost because we can do fusion so efficiently.

Helion’s levelized cost of electricity is projected to be less than $0.04 per kWh without assuming any economies of scale from mass production, carbon credits, or government incentives.

The founders of Helion believe that fusion isn’t a physics problem, but an engineering problem that will be solved by building, testing, and iterating fusion systems and subsystems. By focusing on our true goal – clean, safe and limitless electricity – we can approach fusion from a new angle.

Their approach does three major things differently from other fusion approaches:

1) They utilize a pulsed fusion system. This helps us overcome the hardest physics challenges, keeps our fusion device smaller than other approaches, and allows us to adjust the power output based on need.

2) The system is built to directly recover electricity. Just like regenerative braking in an electric car, our system is built to recover all unused and new electromagnetic energy efficiently. Other fusion systems heat water to create steam to turn a turbine which loses a lot of energy in the process.

3) They use deuterium and helium-3 (D-³He) as fuel. Helium-3 is a cleaner, higher octane fuel. This helps keep our system small and efficient.

The company said reaching these temperatures and confirming system reliability are “vital milestones” that validate its plans to develop a cost-effective, zero-carbon electrical power plant using its pulsed, non-ignition-fusion device.

“These achievements represent breakthroughs with major implications for how the world meets its expanding future electricity needs while dramatically reducing climate impact on a relevant timescale,” said Helion Energy founder and CEO David Kirtley.

Helion says its approach to fusion energy differs in three main ways from other approaches. Firstly, it uses a pulsed fusion system, which helps overcome the hardest physics challenges, keeps its fusion device smaller than other approaches, and allows it to adjust the power output based on need. Secondly, its system is built to directly recover electricity, while other fusion systems heat water to create steam to turn a turbine which loses a lot of energy in the process. Thirdly, it uses deuterium and helium-3 as fuel, which helps keep its system small and efficient.

Thermonuclear Field Reversed Configuration plasmas in the Trenta prototype
Kirtley, D., Hine, A., Milroy, R., Pihl, C., Ryan, R., Shimazu, A. Votroubek, G.

Helion Energy’s Trenta prototype merged and compressed high-Beta Field Reversed Configuration (FRC) deuterium plasmas to fusion conditions, reaching 9 keV total bulk plasma temperatures with operation above 8 keV ion temperature and 1 keV electron temperature. Extensive calibrated chords of x-ray spectroscopy, 1055 nm interferometry, Bremsstrahlung optical emission detectors, and a wide array of magnetic separatrix and neutron diagnostics confirm extended and repeatable FRC operation at thermonuclear fusion conditions. Fusion reaction rates and particle confinement meet or exceed traditional modified-Lower Hybrid Drift (LHD) FRC energy confinement and overall configuration time is limited as expected by the onset of n=2 rotational instability. This presentation will describe newly-discovered high performance operating modes and expand traditional energy and particle confinement scaling to the thermonuclear temperature regimes. Further, a summary of diagnostics and operational results of the Trenta prototype operation through 2020 will be detailed.

Vacuum vessel and divertor design and results of 16 month operation of the Trenta MagnetoInertial Fusion prototype
Kirtley, D., Campbell, B., Hine, A., Milroy, R., Pihl, C., Ryan, R., Votroubek, G.
Helion Energy’s Trenta prototype recently completed a 16 month testing campaign, remaining under vacuum continuously with all fusion and diagnostic operations and system upgrades completed remotely. During this period, extensive MJ-class discharges were completed, including merging and compression of high-Beta Field Reversed Configuration (FRC) deuterium plasmas to thermonuclear fusion conditions with associated fusion product fluences. This presentation will detail vacuum vessel design and construction, operation and plasma-materials interface considerations for inductive, magnetically isolated, but high temperature (9 keV) and high fluence (1 MW/m^2) divertor plasmas. Furthermore, inductive systems require dielectric materials, traditionally SiO2 or Al2O3, that introduce unique interface challenges. Lastly, this presentation will phenomenologically discuss the operational results of the Mark-I scientific divertor with a focus on long-term operation.

SOURCES – Helion Energy
Written by Brian Wang, Nextbigfuture.com