Energy

Helion Energy's next-gen fusion facility steps up pursuit of clean power

Helion Energy's next-gen fusio...
Helion Energy sixth fusion p
Looking into the Divertor of Helion Energy's sixth fusion plant prototype, Trenta
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A render demonstrating Helion Energy's approach to nuclear fusion
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A render demonstrating Helion Energy's approach to nuclear fusion
Helion Energy sixth fusion p
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Looking into the Divertor of Helion Energy's sixth fusion plant prototype, Trenta
The Helion team busts out the ceremonial shovels as ground is broken on the Polaris facility at Everett, Washington
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The Helion team busts out the ceremonial shovels as ground is broken on the Polaris facility at Everett, Washington
Helion Co-Founder & CTO, Chris Pihl and Founder & CEO, Dr. David Kirtley at facility in Redmond, WA
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Helion Co-Founder & CTO, Chris Pihl and Founder & CEO, Dr. David Kirtley at facility in Redmond, WA
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Research groups and startups the world over are working to take nuclear fusion from a fanciful concept to a practical, zero-carbon means of producing practically infinite electricity, and one such team in Washington has just taken a significant step forward. Startup Helion Energy has this week broken ground on a new facility that will become a crucial testbed for its own take on nuclear fusion, and it hopes a key stepping stone towards the first commercially-viable fusion power plant.

Both the complexity and untold potential of nuclear fusion make it a problem that researchers are tackling from all sorts of angles, all trying to harness a process that takes place inside the Sun. This means using intense heat and pressure to cause collisions between separate atoms that combine into larger ones, releasing tremendous amounts of energy in the process, along with zero emissions.

Donut-shaped reactors called tokamaks are considered the most viable vehicles to reproduce this process here on Earth, but there other avenues being explored, such as the twisting and turning stellarator design. Helion Energy is pursuing the technology through its own patented plasma accelerator, which uses deuterium and helium-3 fuels as the starting point.

A render demonstrating Helion Energy's approach to nuclear fusion
A render demonstrating Helion Energy's approach to nuclear fusion

Inside Helion Energy's device, these fuels are heated to extreme temperatures to form plasma, which is then magnetically confined into what the company calls a field reversed configuration (FRC). Two FRCs are formed at opposite ends of the accelerator, and are then smashed together at a speed of one million mph (1.6 million km/h) using magnets to create a spectacular collision in the center.

Here they are further compressed with powerful magnets and heated until they reach temperatures of 100 million °C (180 million °F), finally causing the deuterium and helium-3 to fuse together, forming an expanding plasma that pushes back on the magnetic field to induce a current that can be collected as electricity.

Helion Energy has achieved some significant milestones since being founded in 2013. This includes demonstrating an ability to recover energy from its system at 95 percent efficiency, developing a self-sufficient production cycle for its helium-3 fuel and, more recently, achieving the necessary plasma temperatures of 100 million °C in its sixth prototype, called Trenta.

The Helion team busts out the ceremonial shovels as ground is broken on the Polaris facility at Everett, Washington
The Helion team busts out the ceremonial shovels as ground is broken on the Polaris facility at Everett, Washington

Like everybody working on the nuclear fusion problem, Helion Energy is aspiring to achieve an energy break-even point for fusion, in which its system produces more energy than it requires to operate. This will be a key objective when it eventually begins operations at its new facility in Everett, Washington, which it says will provide as many as 150 local jobs.

“At this facility, Helion will close in on its goal of breaking the fusion barrier and pushing the world towards the end of the fossil fuel era,” said Dr. David Kirtley, Founder and CEO of Helion Energy.

Source: Helion Energy

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8 comments
8 comments
paul314
At least they (claim to) have gotten the energy-recovery part. For a lot of designs that seems to be speculative, so even after they reach multiples breakeven (if they do) there will be much more work to be done.
Catweazle
It is encouraging that it produces electricity directly, rather than producing heat and using it to drive some form of external generator.
Expanded Viewpoint
WHY does all of this nonsensical spiel of "zero emissions" get bandied about all of the time?? The writers of this tripe at the various companies that come up with these crazy ideas to suck funding out of gullible people, is just passed along like it's all been proven out and no questions ever need to be asked about it! Why doesn't anybody apply some critical thinking skills here? Just as you can't clean anything without getting something else dirtier than it was before, there is no such thing as "clean energy" or "zero emissions". Even if I were to come up with a design for some kind of device that would pull energy out of the environment with no moving parts to it, the materials used to make such a device would still have to come into existence via some polluting methods. Not until the ENTIRE chain of events leading up to creating that device I invented is run on non-polluting forms of energy, is it going to be "zero emissions".
How are these gases, Deuterium and Helium3, going to be collected and managed efficiently enough to where they don't consume a high percentage of the energy output of the device? Once again, someone is being taken for a ride here.
Joe
Collect energy from solar wind ,build the space elevator.
Bob Flint
Do we still believe that energy cannot be created or destroyed, but just change it's format?
Perpetual motion does exist, any one of the infinite clusters of particles flying through open space, till another force acts upon it...
guzmanchinky
It's exciting to see progress in this field. I know there are so many out there who say it will never happen, but I think that someday this will be what powers our world...
Kpar
Finally, a method that avoids the steam engine concept. Tokamaks are a dead end for sure- they will create thousands of tons of highly radioactive waste (the stainless steel cooling jackets).

This approach of directly creating electric currents may be the answer.
Skipjack
Helion is one of the fusion startups to watch out for. They are my personal front runners and their design has a lot of advantages over other's.
Other teams to watch are ZAP with their Sheared Flow Stabilized Z- Pinch and Tokamak Energy with their spherical tokamak. There are several other teams that are making great progress as well. All of them have their advantages and disadvantages. We will see who comes out on top in the end, but the market is big enough to support more than one fusion reactor design. In any case, fusion is no longer a thing that is some 30 years away. This is happening now. Exciting times!