Helion and Microsoft Ink Fusion Electric Power Deal
Microsoft and Everett, Wash.-based Helion have agreed to an energy deal using Helion's fusion-generated electrical power, but it's not expected to be in effect until sometime in 2028, according to a Wednesday Helion announcement.
Fusion combines two atoms under heat and pressure to generate energy. It's the same process that occurs within the sun. However, carrying out fusion under earth conditions requires reaching very high temperatures, Helion explained in its FAQ. Helion claims to be "the first private organization to reach plasma temperatures of 100 million degrees Celsius (9 keV)." That temperature is "generally considered the minimum temperature required for large amounts of fusion to occur to generate commercial electricity from fusion."
Helion claims to make capturing electricity in this manner efficient. It estimated that its future fusion electric costs would amount to about "$0.01 per kWh," without including economy-of-scale considerations. As of February 2023, the U.S. national average consumer electricity cost was $0.23 per kilowatt-hour, according the Energysage.com Website.
Helion fuels its process using deuterium, which is a nonradioactive hydrogen isotope found water, plus helium-3, which is a product that comes from fusing deuterium atoms. The atoms aren't split with fusion, and therefore there's "no risk of a runaway chain reaction." Some radiation is produced by Helion's fusion generators, and the company's machines produce radioactive tritium. Helion, though, compared the emitted radiation to "what might be created by medical devices or other particle accelerators."
By 2028, Helion expects to have an online power plant generating "50MW or greater." Microsoft will get Helion's energy via power marketer Constellation.
"We are optimistic that fusion energy can be an important technology to help the world transition to clean energy," said Brad Smith, Microsoft's vice chair and president, in a released statement regarding the deal. "Helion's announcement supports our own long term clean energy goals and will advance the market to establish a new, efficient method for bringing more clean energy to the grid, faster."
Helion is privately owned, and lists OpenAI's Sam Alton, along with Facebook Cofounder Dustin Moskovitz and LinkedIn Cofounder Reid Hoffman as investors. Other investors include Mithril Capital Management, Capricorn Investment Group and Y Combinator. However, the bulk of Helion's funding comes from U.S. government agencies, namely NASA, the U.S. Dept. of Energy and the U.S. Department of Defense, according to a Wikipedia listing.
The prospect of generating electrical power from fusion is "not science fiction," according to the Fusion Industry Association:
Fusion energy is now routinely achieved at laboratory scale around the world. However, up to now, every fusion experiment has required more energy to control the fusion reaction than the fusion reaction has released. Scientists, investors, and business leaders are now convinced that a break-even fusion reaction is within reach. The member companies of the Fusion Industry Association are now racing towards scientific proof of a break-even fusion reaction; a "burning plasma."
Helion's Website claimed that the company is "first to fusion" and described itself as building "the world's first fusion power plant." The terms of its future energy deal with Microsoft weren't described.
About the Author
Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.