Avalanche Energy Making Technical Progress to a Lunchbox Size Nuclear Fusion Device

Avalanche Energy published a research paper in an IEEE journal. Avalanche is a VC-backed, fusion energy start-up based in Seattle, WA. with about $51 million in funding. They are designing, testing and building fusion batteries small enough to hold in your hand. Their modular reactor design can be stacked like battery packs for a wide variety of power applications from kW’s to MW’s providing clean energy to decarbonize the planet. Carbon-free micro-grids, long haul trucking, maritime shipping and aviation, are just some of the applications for our micro-reactors. Their unique approach enables rapid iterations of low-cost build, test, fix design cycles (think SpaceX’s Starship but for fusion).

Pictures from four nuclear fusion companies near Seattle. Avalanche, Helion, Zap Energy and CT Fusion

Paper – Compact, 300-kVDC Bushing for Operation under Ultra-High Vacuum Pressure.

They are targeting 600 kilovolts for their device to achieve certain design goals.

The growing energy demand and the global warming crisis require increasing the share of sustainable energy sources. Fusion energy has the potential to provide a zero-carbon, low-waste energy source that revolutionizes the energy industry. A gram of hydrogen isotope as fusion fuel can give equal energy to burning 16 m 3 of coal. In a novel approach to producing fusion energy, the Orbitron concept has been introduced in which ions are electrostatically confined around a high voltage (H.V.) cathode. In this method, the cathode voltage should be as high as hundreds of kVs. One of the major engineering challenges lies in the transmission of such voltage levels from the atmospheric pressure to a high vacuum environment (p< 10 −8 Torr). One should be concerned not only about the breakdown of the vacuum or dielectric but also about the surface flashover across the insulator’s surface. This study proposes an innovative design for a compact, 300-kV bushing to achieve the aforementioned goal. Published in: 2022 IEEE Conference on Electrical Insulation and Dielectric Phenomena (CEIDP)

A patent describes an orbital containment system on the order of tens of centimeters in size, where a beam of fuel ions interacts with an electrostatic field to enter an elliptical orbit about an inner electrode. The application describes a system where ions last for a second or more. This is ten times longer than in McGuire’s simulations. It is long enough for each ion to complete millions of orbits in the reactor.

An orbital confinement fusion device may include a cathodic inner electrode defining a longitudinal axis of the device. The inner electrode may include an emitter material. The orbital confinement fusion device may include an anodic outer electrode, concentric with the longitudinal axis and defining a chamber between the inner electrode and the outer electrode. The orbital confinement fusion device may also include a plurality of magnetic field generators disposed in a coaxial arrangement relative to the longitudinal axis. The plurality of magnetic field generators may be configured to form a magnetic field parallel to the longitudinal axis in the chamber.

In some embodiments, the inner and outer electrodes are solids of revolution, symmetric about the longitudinal axis, and may be shaped to form a substantially logarithmic electrostatic field in the chamber when energized. The inner electrode may be characterized by an aspect ratio greater than one along the longitudinal axis. The outer electrode may have length along the longitudinal axis greater than a largest diameter of the inner electrode. The outer electrode may include a first anode shell and a second anode shell, disposed laterally relative to the longitudinal axis and a dielectric insulator disposed between and electrically isolating the first anode shell and the second anode shell.

In some embodiments, the magnetic field is characterized by a magnetic field strength exceeding a Hull cut-off condition to trap electrons in an orbital path about the inner electrode within the chamber. The plurality of magnetic field generators may be or include permanent magnets. The plurality of magnetic field generators may be or include electromagnets. The orbital confinement fusion device may also include a high voltage power source, electrically coupled with the inner electrode, and operative in a range from about 50 kV DC to about 4.0 MV DC. The inner electrode may define a first end and a second end. The orbital confinement fusion device may further include a first dielectric insulator mechanically coupled with the first end and isolating the first end from the outer electrode and a second dielectric insulator disposed in the chamber between the second end and the outer electrode and isolating the second end from the outer electrode. The first dielectric insulator may define an insulating cavity and may electrically isolate the high voltage power source from the outer electrode.

In some embodiments, the outer electrode defines an aperture, an alignment of the aperture defining an injection trajectory, the injection trajectory corresponding to a pitch angle of entry of a stable elliptical orbit of an ion of a given mass-to-charge ratio about the inner electrode. The ion may be, but is not limited to, a proton (m/z=1), a deuterium ion (m/z=2), a tritium ion (m/z=3), lithium-6 ion (m/z=6), or a boron-11 ion (m/z=11). The outer electrode may further define a port fluidly coupled with the chamber and an external environment. The port may be configured to fluidly couple with a vacuum system. The emitter material may be disposed on the inner electrode or integrated in the inner electrode. The emitter material may be configured to inject electrons into the chamber when the inner electrode is energized. The emitter material may be or include a thermionic emitter material.

In some embodiments, the orbital confinement fusion device further includes an image current device electrically coupled with the outer electrode and configured to generate electrical energy from a plurality of charged particles orbiting the inner electrode, the plurality of charged particles exhibiting harmonic axial motion aligned with the longitudinal axis. The orbital confinement fusion device may further include a fluid conduit disposed in the outer electrode or the inner electrode. The orbital confinement fusion device may be characterized by physical dimensions on the order of tens of centimeters. In some embodiments, the orbital confinement fusion device is electrically coupled with an electrical power system configured to receive electrical power or heated coolant from the device.

A method of generating orbital confinement fusion energy in a fusion device described above may include energizing the inner electrode to a voltage from about 50 kV DC to about 4.0 MV DC, thereby forming a logarithmic electrostatic field between the inner electrode and the outer electrode and injecting a plurality of electrons into the chamber. The method may include injecting a beam of fuel ions into the chamber and at an angle tangential to a surface of the inner electrode, causing the fuel ions to interact with the electrostatic field and to enter an elliptical orbit about the inner electrode. The method may also include generating a magnetic field aligned with the longitudinal axis using the plurality of magnetic field generators, the magnetic field characterized by an intensity corresponding to a Hull cut-off condition and redirecting the electrons back toward the inner electrode.

In some embodiments, the method further includes flowing a coolant through the fluid conduit, heating the coolant through contact with the outer electrode, and generating electricity using the heated coolant. The method may further include applying a radio-frequency (RF) voltage signal to the outer electrode using a charge image circuit, wherein a frequency of the RF voltage signal corresponds to an oscillation of charged particles in the chamber along a direction aligned with the longitudinal axis. The method may further include generating an RF current using the charge image circuit and generating a direct current from the RF current using an RF-to-DC rectifier circuit.

Avalanche Energy Background

Avalanche is a VC-backed, fusion energy start-up based in Seattle, WA. They are designing, testing and building micro-fusion reactors that you can hold in your hand. Their modular reactor design can be stacked for endless power applications and unprecedented energy density to provide clean energy and decarbonize the planet.

Avalanche is developing a 5kWe power pack called the “Orbitron” in a form-factor the size of a lunch pail. The unique physics of the Orbitron allows for its compact size which is a key enabler for development, scaling, and a wide variety of applications. Avalanche Energy uses electrostatic fields to trap fusion ions and also uses a magnetron electron confinement to reach higher ion densities. The resulting fusion reaction produces neutrons that can be transformed into heat.

The magnetron is a variation of a component in regular microwave ovens and the electrostatic base technology is a derivative of a product available from ThermoFisher Scientific, which is widely deployed for use in commercial mass spectrometry. ​They are taking two devices that exist already, things you can buy commercially for various applications. They are putting them together in a new interesting way at much higher voltages” to build a ​“recirculating beam fusion” prototype.

The unique approach enables rapid iterations of design, build, test, fix cycles for faster development and the rapid scalability that the planet needs.

They raised a $5 million seed round, secured a Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) International Patent. In February, 2022 Langtry and Riordan generated their first neutrons via fusion. They had 10 employees in March and expect to double that by the end of 2022. Avalanche Energy’s $5 million first round was led by Prime Impact Fund (now Azolla Ventures) and included Congruent Ventures, Chris Sacca’s Lowercarbon Capital, and nearly a dozen smaller investors. In August, 2022, they raised another $23-24 million.

Total funding as of 2023 is about $51 million.

Ultra Small and Lightweight
Avalanche’s reactor design is small enough to hold in your hand. This allows the use of conventional manufacturing tools and techniques for test and production, and a wider variety of applications from personal transportation to micro-grid power.

Scalable, Rapid Manufacturing
Avalanche’s small-scale power pack lends itself to high-speed production line manufacturing techniques, dramatically lowering the cost of fusion with economies of scale.

The Avalanche design can be packaged as a single cell with 5kW – 15kW capacity or grouped by the hundreds for megawatt-scale clean energy solutions.

CEO Robin Langtry told Canary Media in an interview. ​“It’s hundreds of little cells that we can mass-produce in a giga-fusion factory. You might need a few of them for a car, a dozen for a bus, maybe 100 for an airplane.”

No Giant Magnets or Lasers No Giant Magnets or Lasers

Avalanche’s reactor design avoids the dangers, expense and complexity of high-power magnets or lasers.

Avalanche’s reactor design is capable of fusing fuels like proton-boron-11 which practically eliminates internal neutron radiation, resulting in longer life and lower shielding requirements for a lighter power pack.

The Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) has provided funding. The DIU objective is to launch a successful orbital prototype demonstration in 2027 with Avalanche Energy and another approach with radioisotopes.

DIU has awarded two Prototype Other Transaction (OT) contracts: one to the Ultra Safe Nuclear and a second to Avalanche Energy to demonstrate the next generation of nuclear propulsion and power capability for spacecraft. Specifically, these companies will be testing solutions that give small spacecraft the ability to maneuver at-will in cislunar space and enable high-power payloads that will support the expansion of Department of Defense (DoD) space missions.

“Advanced nuclear technologies will provide the speed, power, and responsiveness to maintain an operational advantage in space,” said U.S. Air Force Maj Ryan Weed, Program Manager for the Nuclear Advanced Propulsion and Power (NAPP) program at DIU. Ryan Weed used to be CEO of Positron Dynamics which worked on an appraoch to animatter propulsion.

Avalanche Energy has developed a device called an “Orbitron,” which utilizes electrostatic fields to trap fusion ions in conjunction with a magnetron electron confinement scheme to overcome charge density limits. The resulting fusion burn then produces the energetic particles that generate either heat or electricity, which can power a high-efficiency propulsion system. Compared to other fusion concepts, Orbitron devices are promising for space applications as they may be scaled down in size and enable their use as both a propulsion and power source.

High-Level Concept: High-speed ions are electrostatically confined in precessing elliptical orbits around a negatively charged cathode. The ion density is increased by the co-confinement of high temperature electrons trapped by an external weak magnetic field perpendicular to the electrostatic field in a “crossed field” configuration similar to a magnetron microwave device. Crossing elliptical paths of ions provide millions of chances of fusion-relevant collisions before the ion loses energy and is moved out of the interaction space as it falls into the cathode and is removed from the chamber.

History: The Orbitron configuration was invented in 2020 and is under development in Washington State.

Challenges: The interaction space for Orbitron plasma is extremely small for fusion devices, and requires extremely high voltages to trap the ions at fusion-relevant speeds. Managing dielectric breakdown and flashover in such a small space is an engineering challenge, and the plasma interactions for glancing beam-beam configurations are not well understood.

From Talk Polywell discussion board:
Flashover issues start to appear in a vacuum over 50kV. Under this limit, the issues are mainly related to dielectric breakdown (current flow).

ZAP Energy stays safely in the 15/20kV range, so they are far from flashover (voltage) related issues and this should not effect them at all.

Focus Fusion on the other hand is working right at the threshold of that limit (45kV), and that’s why they are having a much more hard time.

Flashover issues are mainly focused in the connection point between the electrode and the insulator and are not current dependent but are voltage dependent (similar to a mechanical seal on a pump shaft that is not effected by the pump flow (current) but by the pressure head (voltage)).

Avalanche Energy is aiming for 600 kV.

Avalanche Energy reports meeting the 300 kV target. They published the IEEE paper that this was achieved. The previous highest electrostatic fusion device they are aware of was “ Homer” at UW-Madison which achieved 190 kV.

Robin Langtry, CEO at Avalanche Energy, shared on Linkedin that they finished their first radiation vault. This unlocks the tech. tree for testing their prototypes at voltages at over 100 kV and increasing fusion rates.

SOURCES Avalanche Energy, Geekwire, Linkedin
Written by Brian Wang, Nextbigfuture.com

8 thoughts on “Avalanche Energy Making Technical Progress to a Lunchbox Size Nuclear Fusion Device”

  1. Fusor is not a bad basic concept, but you need to overcome the speed of light for effective fusion and with only high voltage it is not possible, so no matter if you have 20kV or 60kV. But to understand how to manipulate with time-space needs to know advanced physic. So effective fission or fusion can get primary by increasing gravity.

  2. So call me sceptical. Mass produced PB11 Fusion in “a lunch box” would be the most important discovery since fire. So for all you physics gurus could you tell me why this will be almost a certain failure and the last time we hear of this company in NBF?

    • Yes, as far as I can make out: A farnsworth fusor with the central electrode replaced by a cloud of electrons held magnetically in place, and the voltage turned up and up and up.

      And those images look about 10 times larger than any lunch box we have in my country. [ Stereotyping comment about fat Americans ]

      • Well, the primary problem with the Farnsworth Fusor IS the recirculating ions striking the cathode. If you could maintain the charge gradient without a physical cathode, *maybe* you could get it to work. Magnetically trapping the electrons is an approach I’d actually considered trying, but I lacked this sort of funding…

          • Kinda. Polywell is a Farnsworth Fusor where the cathode is magnetically confined electrons, but the confinement coils are inside the recirculating plasma, and while you can set things up so that the coils themselves are self-shielding, nothing is shielding their supports…

            What you really want to do is confine the electrons with a coil external to the plasma. Either a magnetic mirror design, or a Tokamak configuration, but with the coils generating the field outside the chamber. The necessary confinement field for electrons is much, much weaker than for positive ions, because electrons have such low mass, the gyroscopic radius is about 3,600 times smaller for electrons than for a deuteron, so you can confine the electrons with a field the deuterons hardly notice.

            I wanted to do a tokamak configuration electron confinement fusor, (Because there are no cusps…) where the positive ions would be heated by resonant excitation.

            But, like I said, nobody was funding ME, and I wasn’t making enough to do something like that on my salary as a hobby. Must be fun to have people paying for your experiments…

            Anyway, Avalanche is apparently trying to use a central cathode, but avoid collisions by having all the ions orbiting it. The external magnetic field is supposed to impose that motion. Mind you, most collisions do NOT result in fusion, and will result in the ions going off in any direction they want, so I don’t see that working. At least in the classic fusor, the collisions happen at the center, and “any direction” is always out, the direction you want them to go.

            • Brett, you seem to understand this. I have 3 questions. Do you know any of the answers?

              It sounds like each injector will cause a different ellipse, and fusion happens where the eliipses cross. Is that right?

              It sounds like they want to produce both heat and direct conversion to electricity. I can’t even imagine how the latter would work. Is that right?

              How can they possibly get to 600kV, or even 300kV without flashover? What’s the new idea that makes it possible?

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