Nuclear Fusion startup, Helion Energy, received $500 million in funding and has $1.7 billion in commitments.
Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI and former president of Y Combinator, led the round. Co-founder of Facebook Dustin Moskovitz and Peter Thiel’s Mithril Capital, Capricorn Investment Group also invested.
David Kirtley, Helion’s co-founder and CEO plans to build systems that are about the size of a shipping container and that can deliver industrial-scale power — say on the order of 50 megawatts of electricity.
They want to have a net power generating system by 2024 and a full commercial system possibly by 2027.
Helion has built six prototypes. The last one, Trenta, has had energy generated and recovered.
They are building their seventh prototype (Polaris) now. It will be steady operating and generating net energy.
What are Helion’s technical achievements?
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 under vacuum for 16 months. With Trenta, Helion became the first private organization to reach plasma temperatures of 100 million degrees Celsius (9 keV). Trenta is still operating today.
Additionally, they have demonstrated that our magnets run at 95% energy efficiency, exhibited compression fields greater than 10 Tesla, and sustained plasmas with lifetimes greater than 1 ms.
What will Polaris do?
Helion’s 7th fusion prototype, Polaris, will demonstrate net electricity from fusion, and will also demonstrate helium-3 production through deuterium-deuterium fusion.
Its construction will allow them to scale up the technical advancements they have achieved in their first 6 prototypes to commercial scale. Additionally, they will increase the repetition rate of fusion pulses. In Trenta, they ran fusion pulses once every ten minutes. Polaris will pulse once a second (1 Hz).
In a 2014 interview with Nextbigfuture, David Kirtley said all proceeds on schedule then a Helion Energy machine that that proves commercial energy gain would be a 50 Megawatt system. The new plan and inflation seems to have increased costs from $200 million to $500 millon and a first commercialization system and factory will take $1.7 billion.
They can build prototypes in 2-3 years.
Here is information from the Helion Energy FAQ and some from the 2014 interview.
Where is Helion going to get helium-3?
Helium-3 is an ultra-rare isotope of helium that is difficult to find on Earth used in quantum computing and critical medical imaging.
Helion produces helium-3 by fusing deuterium in its plasma accelerator utilizing a patented high-efficiency closed-fuel cycle.
Helium-3 has, historically, been very difficult to produce. Scientists have even discussed going to the Moon to mine helium-3 where it can be found in much higher abundance. Helion’s new process means we can produce helium-3 (no space travel required!)
How does Helion generate electricity from fusion?
The device directly recaptures electricity; it does not use heat to create steam to turn a turbine, nor does it require the immense energy input of cryogenic superconducting magnets. The technical approach reduces efficiency loss, which is key to their ability to commercialize electricity from fusion at very low costs.
The FRC plasmas in the device are high-beta and, due to their internal electrical current, produce their own magnetic field, which push on the magnetic field from the coils around the machine. The FRCs collide in the fusion chamber and are compressed by magnets around the machine. That compression causes the plasma to become denser and hotter, initiating fusion reactions that cause the plasma to expand, resulting in a change in the plasma’s magnetic flux. This change in magnetic flux interacts with the magnets around the machine, increasing their magnetic flux, initiating a flow of newly generated electricity through the coils. This process is explained by Faraday’s Law of Induction.
They expect that Polaris will be able to demonstrate the production a small amount of net electricity by 2024. They will continue to iterate our device quickly so we can offer commercial fusion power for the grid as soon as possible.
How much will Helion’s fusion power cost?
They estimate that Helion’s fusion power will be one of the lowest cost sources of electricity.
Helion’s cost of electricity production is projected to be $0.01 per kWh without assuming any economies of scale from mass production, carbon credits, or government incentives.
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. Their machines require a much lower cost on capital equipment because we can do fusion so efficiently and don’t require large steam turbines, cooling towers, or other plant requirements of traditional fusion approaches.
Does fusion produce waste?
Helion’s fusion does not produce any long-lived radioactive waste. The machine does produce tritium, which is commonly used in commercial applications such as wristwatches and exit signs. Tritium’s half-life is only 12 years (compared to 24,000 years for fission waste). And as tritium decays, it turns into helium-3, which they use as fusion fuel.
In addition to tritium, the radiation from fusion does create some “activated materials” over the operating life of a power plant. Helion’s plants have been specifically designed to only use materials that would result in low activation, similar to what might be created by medical devices or other particle accelerators.
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 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
The dots on the old graph, HF 2012 (Helion Fusion 2012) and IPA HF 2013 (Inductive Plasma Accelerator High Field 2013) are their prototype performance. They built the Trenta 10 Tesla device. They are building the 12 tesla, Polaris prototype, for the first net ent energy generating version.
They need to move from generating a pulse once every ten minutes to a pulse every second and then ten times a second.
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.
Helion Energy’s old strategy was 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 could enable them to reach hundreds of billions of dallars in revenue 20 years after the first commercial systems start to be mass produced.
The revenue model may have changed and they now think they cann Helion Energy power costs down to 1 cent per kwh.
SOURCES – Interview by Brian Wang with Helion Founder David Kirtley, Helion Energy, Techcrunch
Written By Brian Wang, Nextbigfure.com
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.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.
63 thoughts on “Shipping Container Sized Commercial Nuclear Fusion is Fully Funded and May Arrive 2027”
Do they have to start with He3? Or can they start with D-D and accept a higher neutron flux for a while?
If the former, they'll have to start with a small number of reactors and multiply them very slowly over time. If the latter, then with sufficient capital they could build a hundred thousand reactors up front, fill them up with deuterium, and in a couple decades the whole world's running on them.
It could definitely replace all fossil fuel power plants, and very quickly would, since its total cost would be less than fossil's variable cost.
Liquid hydrocarbons for transport would be a harder nut but with power that cheap, making it from atmospheric CO2 might actually be cost-competitive, especially since fossil oil is getting more expensive to produce.
Both Helion and LPPFusion (https://lppfusion.com) intend to directly recover electricity from their nuclear fusion reactors. In this respect, they differ from most other fusion venture companies that instead intend to produce electricity from turbine generators using high pressure steam made by heating water using nuclear fusion. By eliminating the water heating, turbine generators, etc. both Helion and LPPFusion anticipate they could have an electricity production cost of about $10/MWh or better.
Helion anticipate their fusion reactors would each have an electricity production capacity of about 50MW. LPPFusion anticipate their fusion reactors would each have an electricity production capacity of about 5MW. In a power station these reactors would likely be put in banks. A 500 MW power station using Helion reactors would have a bank of 10 reactors. A 500 MW power station using LPPFusion reactors would perhaps have 5 banks with 20 reactors in each bank.
In many countries the domestic electricity rate is about $0.25/kWh. If fusion generated electricity reduced this domestic electricity rate by 90% (to 2.5 cents per kWh), per capita electricity use would likely more than double or triple. In an advanced future city of a million people, a $0.025/kWh domestic electricity rate may likely require roughly 10,000 MW of power station capacity. Twenty 500 MW fusion power stations around the city could cater for this 10,000 MW.
A 500 MW power station with Helion or LPPFusion reactors should be an economical size for a power station using these types of reactors.
Power stations with Helion or LPPFusion reactors should have much reduced footprints in comparison with present-day power stations. A 500 MW power station with Helion reactors and all the associated equipment including switchyard should have footprint of perhaps less than a hectare. A 500 MW power station with LPPFusion reactors and all the associated equipment including switchyard should have footprint of perhaps less than two hectares.
I know them quite well. They are serious and very good at what they are doing. They might need a bit longer (because nothing ever goes exactly as planned), but I think they will be the first to do it.
Also note that Polaris will "only" produce a small amount of net electricity. The next one after that will be a full power plant.
Something tells me coal companies will hate it
Sounds a little… Optimistic
The nice thing about this design is the neutrons are concentrated right at one spot, so you can concentrate your engineering on dealing with just that region. As opposed to a tokamak which is much more isotropic.
Their reactors are pulsed and not steady state. They are going for higher density (several orders of magnitude higher than in a Tokamak), rather than longer confinement times. Their design works quite well. That is why they got the recent 500 million in funding.
So you're saying they're planning on not running the pulse long enough for the Tritium to thermalize? And the burn up will be very, very low, then that batch of plasma gets sent off for fractionation, rather than being recycled?
OK, I guess I was thinking of this as a steady state reactor, assuming that the pulse couldn't be short enough to avoid that.
Well, I wish them the best of luck, though I generally doubt that fusion will ever be economically superior to fission, and expect that the watermelons will come after them if they do prove their system works.
Define "more than just a rough prototype". What exactly do you want to see?
Trenta beat Alcator C-Mod and potentially even JET after just one year of operation.
The second year should be even better.
I'm old enough to know, "controlled nuclear fusion", has been 10 years away, starting about 1955. I'll believe it when it actually happens. I hope I live long enough. However long it takes.
A Q of 100 is excessive for many fusion generator designs. The reason is that at a Q>10 (IIRC), there are enough hot fusion products that the plasma becomes self heating (ignition) and external heating is no longer required at which Q becomes infinite.
The Tritons are too hot (> 1 MeV) when they are formed and thus are collisionless on the timescales of the pulse.
You also have to use a Maxwellian averages cross section to be meaningful. These are not monoenergetic particle beams.
They will run at temperatures below 50 keV (the exact number is currently still a secret) to encourage more D-D reactions than D-He3 reactions in order to produce enough He3 for the next shot.
At the same time, their plasma is significantly (several orders of magnitude) more dense than that of a Tokamak (even the proposed HTSC ones). They can balance density and temperature (lower density – higher temperature and the other way round) really well.
Another thing to consider in all this, is that they are operating at a pretty high ion to electron temperature ratio which decreases losses from Bremsstrahlung significantly compared to equilibrium plasmas. That means that they can get away with lower overall temperatures and triple products than say Tokamaks.
This is particularly important for high Z fuels like He3 since the equation is (with Z being the atomic number).
P(fus)/P(loss) = Ti^1.5 / (Z^2 * Te^0.5 )
I suppose any coverage about Rossi and the SKLep is not in the making.
The news are 600K pre-ordered (mainly big buyers), 1 M in sight within the month and delivery in this year.
It was 20 years in the future for 40 years.
Then, maybe, it is 2 years in the future for 4 years.
The cross section for D-T fusion is higher than for D-D fusion for every temperature which is reasonably attainable, (I mean, not in a device like LLP's.) so I don't know what you mean by "too hot and thus non-collisional". I suppose if they're really running as cold as they say, (9kev) they might get some Tritium out if they kept the burnup low. But then, how do they expect to get any of the He3 to fuse?
I admit I'd expected they'd be running somewhere around 50kev, given their plan to use a mix of D-D and D-He3 fusion.
Hard to put into numbers because they are so different and David Kirtley just does not like the "triple product map" thing (for good reason). From their recent presentation at SOFE, I have inferred that their 2020(!) results were somewhere around the same Triple Product as Alcator C- Mod, maybe even as high as JET.
They have since upgraded the machine and could be quite a bit higher even.
AND there are a few things that tilt things significantly in their favor. E.g. their ion temperature is significantly higher than their electron temperature (as much as 17.5 times as high). The ion temperature is where the fusion happens, the electron temperature is where the losses are (Bremsstrahlung). And their Ti:Te ratio will get even higher as plasma temperature increases.
For comparison, Tokamaks operate at a Ti:Te =1.
P(fusion)/P(losses) = Ti^1.5 / (Z^2 * Te^0.5 ) where Z is the atomic number.
Again, the He3 is not just coming from the Tritium. There is one He3 produced directly for every two D-D reactions (with the other one producing a Tritium).
The D-He3 reaction is a lot more energetic than the D-D reaction and will contribute most of the net power output, but the D-D reactions will produce enough energy by itself to produce a (relatively) small amount of net electricity. That is what Polaris will demonstrate.
They also won't need to buy any He3 for startup. They will produce it right there by running on D-D for a few days before switching to D-He3. What they can do is sell the Tritium and buy He3 with that money. In fact most users of Tritium will likely have He3 in storage because their Tritium will inevitably decay into He3 and they will likely happily trade one for the other.
Mind you, we are not talking massive amounts of fuel here. A year supply for their 50 MWe power plant would be less than 130 grams of He3
Also, the D-D reactions are not "highly neutronic". Half of them produce a 2.45 MeV neutron. That is about 1/6 of the energy of the neutrons produced in every D-T reaction.
The Tritium will not fuse with the Deuterium in side reactions because for one the pulses are too short for the Tritium to have time to fuse. And second, the Tritium is too hot and thus non collisional. Both of these facts prevent the Tritium from fusing in side reactions. Helion of course has already proven that in their current and previous prototypes which all ran on D-D.
Magnets in Tokamaks are volume limited. You can only fit so much coil through the "hole" in the center of a torus. Helion's is using a linear design. So they can make the coils really thick. The thicker the conductor, the lower the resistance.
The other difference is that Tokamaks are steady state. They have to keep that magnetic field going for a very long time. Meanwhile Helion's pulses last less than a millisecond.
That said, most of the energy still goes to the compression coils. But that energy is not lost. It goes into the plasma and then is recovered from the plasma at the end of the pulse.
Several sources, actually. It is on their website in the timeline (2015 point) in "who we are".
It was also elsewhere on the website but that got replaced with a different text recently.
I also got it confirmed by David Kirtley. It is actually over 95% efficiency and they are rounding down.
People keep getting hung up on that for some reason and I do not understand why. This is essentially an electric motor with regenerative braking. Only that this motor does not have any moving parts, the "rotor" is in a vacuum and the magnets are not made from some cheap, off the shelf, mass produced coils, but custom made with (near) zero defects (which is where the inefficiencies in electric motors are) and they are not mass or volume constrained.
Mind you, even some mass produced electric motors have about 95% efficiency and regenerative braking in electric cars is standard and very efficient.
So this is not at all hard to believe.
They like the He3-D fusion because it's aneutronic, and quite a bit more energetic than D-D fusion, almost as energetic as D-T fusion.
But, of course, it isn't really aneutronic, because of the D-D reactions; Either you get D+D=He3 +n, or you get D+D=T+p, with the Tritium immediately consumed by D+T because the reaction cross section is so high.
So really, the D reactions are just D+D=He3+n, or D+D+D=He3+p+n.
But you're only getting 2He3 for every 5D, so to take advantage of the D-He3 reaction you need 5 D-D reactions for every 2 D-He3 reactions if you want a steady state that's just consuming D, (Treating the He3 as a catalyst, essentially.) so you're going to be pumping out neutrons regardless, even if the majority of the energy is coming from the D-He3 reaction.
Only way around that is to run the reaction at a temperature where D-He3 has a much larger cross section, and then, while it's much closer to aneutronic, you're eating He3 like it's candy. Very expensive candy.
Which is why I've remarked before that you actually, using He3 reactors, would be running TWO fuel cycles: A highly neutronic (And thus tightly guarded!) D-D fusion fuel cycle with the neutrons being used to breed Tritium, that supplies prompt and delayed He3. And a relatively low neutron, and thus light security, D+He3 fuel cycle.
As I picture it the D-D is run in centralized utility reactor farms, and the D-He3 is used is isolated and mobile applications.
But Tritium breeding? Unavoidable!
You're right, of course.
Apparently once you get these fusion reactors going, you can breed a LOT of tritium from so-called 'spallation' reactions between the loose neutrons and ⁷Li nuclei. Which is mighty convenient since we have been digging up so much lithium.
³H (tritium) is very useful especially in these ionized plasma reactors since the Bremmstralung radiaion ('energy sink') goes to sap the oerall nucleon-nucleon fusion reaction of substantial power. With the least-lost species being deuterium ²H and tritium ³H, which is at 1400 to 1. (power over Bremms…)
You can read all about it conveniently at the usual suspect Wikipedia page.
Anyway, since the tritium is 'breedable' pretty easily, once things get rolling, having a decided need for the stuff seems not really like the limit of reactors. Mostly, to me, it seems that the most likely issue remains that which has been with us for the last 50+ years.
Namely, that physics-of-magnetically confined sub-billion degree plasmas has yet to be show to be as glowingly stable to millions-of-shots-per-day repetition rates.
⋅-⋅-⋅ Just saying, ⋅-⋅-⋅
⋅-=≡ GoatGuy ✓ ≡=-⋅
Another question.. Commonwealth fusion states that non super conducting magnets require a lot of energy to drive them. So you would lose a lot of simply by using normal magnets.
How much of the reactor power is used to power the magnets forcthe helion system?
Impressive indeed! Sounds almost too good to be true. Do you have a source for that fact (95% energy recovery)?
When the numbers are this good I am obliged to call the cards no matter who makes the statements…
Thanks! And where are they now in terms of Q?
If you're buying He3, it was almost certainly produced by the decay of Tritium. Which has a half-life of 12.3 years, so converting Tritium into He3 takes a good deal of time.
Sure, the reaction will internally produce AND consume He3, consuming a bit more than it produces, and you can balance the reaction by going Deuterium heavy, (And getting more neutrons!)
But you can't ramp up the number of reactors without a substantial source of He3 to prime them with. And once there's a demand for He3, the price will skyrocket. Even now a liter of He3 at STP costs nearly $3k. What do you suppose it will cost once fusion reactors are consuming it?
It follows from this that they're going to have to use the neutrons to breed Tritium, and accumulate a substantial stock of it, in order to have a source of He3. And especially do this during the ramp up of the number of reactors, to keep the price of He3 down.
Which is not a problem, IMO, but once this reactor is proven to work, scaling it up to widespread use will be He3 supply limited, there's a fundamental limit on how fast you can increase the number of He3 reactors in use.
Is my concern here clear? It's not about steady state operation, but rather, the economics of going from a one off reactor to thousands of them.
Helion gets away with a very low Q(sci) value because of their efficient energy recovery, which also recovers 95% of the input energy, not just the output energy. That means that they can theoretically have a Q(sci) below 1 and still produce net electricity (though likely not at a commercially viable scale). IIRC, they are aiming for an engineering Q of about 3 for their commercial plants.
Their plants will produce neutrons in D-D side reactions (which also produce the He3 they need). Those neutrons are of relatively low energy, however (2.45 MeV), below the activation energy of many materials. So they are not that big of a concern as they are in D-T fusion plants.
They will have maybe 10% of the energy released as neutrons, which are 2.45 MeV. Shielding will be needed but it won't be a major concern for their design. Neither will be neutron activation (2.45 MeV is below the activation energy of many materials). Their plants can be decommissioned within a week of operation.
No, it is not "mostly made by producing Tritium". They produce it by fusion Deuterium, which produces a Triton in one branch and a Helion in the other (50:50 chance). They will fuse slightly more deuterium than D-He3 to make their fuel cycle close. They could sell the Tritium for extra profit or trade it for more He3 (He3 is currently slightly cheaper than Tritium, but they are about the same price).
What makes Helion attractive is that they do not need cryogenically cooled magnets and no steam plant. This allows them to ramp up power production very quickly which allows them to load follow renewables and replace gas peaker plants. That is a huge deal.
It is actually better than that. They can recover 95% of the output energy, but also 95% of the INPUT energy. That means that they can get away with a Q (sci) below 1 and still get a net electricity output.
There are a few other things that work in their favor. E.g. they have a very high ion to electron temperature ratio. That dramatically reduces bremsstrahlung losses, which is very important when working with advanced fuels (like D-D and D-He3).
What now for ITER, NIF, and Tesla?
Going to happen
Fusion is extremely hard to achieve, and this approach has had little funding until now. You have to precisely control millions of parameters in order to get net gain from fusion. You have to actually get the funding before you can prove out the approach, which makes it nearly impossible to get investors. Now that they have the funding though, things can start to go a little smoother, and you can build the requisite scale reactor to prove out your approach.
This was always the superior approach to fusion. Don't know why low density tokamaks ever got so much attention. The only thing potentially better would be dense plasma focus z-pinch. Either of these approaches would easily be competitive even with very cheap renewables. The key is efficient direct conversion to electricity and getting rid of the inefficient and expensive turbine.
I’m getting restless on this topic. It would be finally refreshing to see something being built that’s more than a rough but photogenic prototype.
Keep in mind that the He3 is mostly made by producing Tritium, which then decays to He3 with a half life of, IIRC, 12 years. Which requires you to build up a huge inventory of the Tritium. (Maybe even enough that it would be economically worth it to use the Tritium in huge banks of opto-electric nuclear batteries, so the inventory wouldn't be a dead cost.)
So, in effect, they're burning Tritium, just "aged" Tritium.
Ramp up is going to be slow due to the need to build up that inventory.
Careful — even if what Helion is projecting is completely accurate, it will not end the demand for fossil fuels. It would, over some period of time, greatly reduce the demand for fossil fuels, but there will still be a lot of applications of fossil fuels that will not be practical to convert to electricity. So don't oversell what Helion may be creating. It would have a very large beneficial effect, but it won't eliminate all need for fossil fuels.
Interesting. Since you seem to know quite a bit about the project, I keep asking you for information.
How much shielding do they need? I perused this document , and from it you would seem to need, say, 1 m of aluminum to get 2^13 times less neutron flux at 4MEV.
I was turned much more sceptical about nuclear fusion when watching a very interesting video on youtube  that basically laid out the reasons why you need a Q-value of 100 to reach comercial electricity production.
But this may be different for the Helion machine. If the efficiency of their conversion style – expanding plasma pushes a magnetic field outwards that generate a net current in their magnets – is sufficiently high, they may need a much lower Q.
Say they have a Q of 4, but their conversion efficiency is 80%. Then they would get about 3 times the electrical energy out of the machine as they push in. Use some rectifier circuitry and large capacitor banks, and you could drive the magnets with the stored energy and you would still end up with a net energy gain of say, 2. That's because conversion electronics have high efficiency.
If you use turbines and water, there are many great losses before you get a unit of electric energy, so the requirement of Q is much higher. According to , about 100.
So this technology may just be easier path to reach comercialization than other fusion approaches…?
Interesting. You seem to know quite a lot about this system. You would not happen to know the following:
What Q-value have they demonstrated? It is stated in the article that they have demonstrated more energy out than was put in. But by how much? 5%? 100%?
Also, what efficiency have they demonstrated in converting expanding plasma pressure to electricity with their magnets? What efficiency can they expect in their next system and a comercial system?
$10/MWh fusion electricity will eliminate wind and solar renewables. This cannot happen fast enough. Other good effects will include the end of the demand for fossil fuels.
Brian, to my understanding, not all of the 500 million in recent funding is just for Polaris.
They are not using super conductors and with good reason. Cryoplants cost energy and are big, complex and expensive. They are using aluminum magnets. It makes some parts of their design more difficult (gotta get high magnetic fields with conventional magnets), but it makes mass produced power plants much easier in the future. Also makes the device much cheaper.
Helion has a very good history of meeting their deadlines.
They have been iterating very quickly through their prototypes. Their last one, Venti completed its operation at the end of 2018 and Trenta (which is significantly bigger) has been operating for 2 years now… Their next one, Polaris will start operation some time in 2023 (and is planned to achieve net electricity in 2024). The construction of Polaris only started in late summer and the building is already half way done.
Even if it took them twice as long, they would be way before 2030.
It will likely be mid to end 2024, but maybe we will be pleasantly surprised 🙂
Well, they already have a prototype (their 6th) that is loaded with fuel every day and doing fusion every day.
Helion is different. For one, they do not burn Tritium. So they do not need to worry about capturing neutrons for Tritium breeding (though they could do that as well). That fact also means that the only neutrons produced are by half the D-D reactions that are used to make He3. That also means that they have a lot less neutrons that are also much lower energy (2.45 MeV vs >14.7 MeV). So less shielding is required.
Not the expert, but this seems to not heat things with neutrons, rather makes moving charged particles that are a *current* that can run thru a transformer coil, making electricity, not hot water. Whether neutrons are made at all is another question(?)
Some are surprised that, when you look out into the sky at nite, everything is flooded with sunlight.
Fancy name for the incandescent ball of plasma we all turn around.
I recently saw a video by someone who researched fusion most of his career and who isn’t completely skeptical of future fusion but is very skeptical of short term promises. One thing he said that stuck in my memory was that promises of very small fusion reactors aren’t realistic because not only do the immediate surroundings have to be shielded from the neutrons by large amounts of material but a significant amount of neutrons need to be absorbed to make new fuel which also takes a fair bit of space. Obviously I don’t understand the nuts and bolts of artificial nuclear fusion but as far as up and coming technologies go it’s always been the king of wishful thinking.
How/when is fuel loaded?
They seem interested in commercial electricity production quickly and are looking at early applications like powering data centers via the infrastructure they already have in place for backup generators.
"4 to 6 cents per kwh" about the same as other nuke promises. I like the tech, non thermal electricity, but hard to compete with existing fusion's free high temp photons.
edit: "Helion Energy power costs down to 1 cent per kwh." That is far more interesting! Criswell estimates 1 cent retail, dropping from there, so now we at least have similar starting points. And again, boiling water elect costs more than that even with free energy.
Very interesting article.
Brian, could you do an updated overview of all these promising (?) nuclear fusion start-ups, such as Helion, General, Focus, Tri-Alpha, …?
2 years away in fusion time realistically means about 2030.
Sounds very promising unlike so much else in fusion. After all these years maybe something is coming together. It’s hard not to be skeptical though. I’d like to see the detailed description of an entire power plant. Direct electricity generation not needing steam turbines and all that stuff ought to simplify a lot.
It needs Helium-3 but they say they can produce what they need as a D-D fusion byproduct so no constraints.
Unless there’s much more required for the power plant than is apparent, this is perfect for the moon and Mars and could even power spacecraft with ion engines. There would be no dense radioactive fuel to launch into orbit and drive protests.
These could power ships without environmental or safety objections.
What stands in the way?
Fusion power, now 2 years in the future!
Well, that's an advance. It was 20 before, then 10, and lately it was 5.
They are pretty well founded, sixth gen prototype "Trenta" ran almost every day for 16 months and completed more than 10,000 high-power pulses. Looks promising and serious. They dont spend too long building prototypes. With Trenta they could do pulse every 10 minutes, but with 7th gen they aim for 1 pulse per sec.
Superconducting "batteries"? Oh, you mean "inductors"…
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