Shipping Container Sized Commercial Nuclear Fusion is Fully Funded and May Arrive 2027

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…
Shipping Container Sized Commercial Nuclear Fusion is Fully Funded and May Arrive 2027

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.

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 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.

Revenue Model

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,

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