Frequently Asked Questions
Fusion is the process the sun and stars use to make energy.
Fusion occurs when two atoms combine together to form a single atom under intense heat and pressure. The combined atom has less mass than the original two atoms. In accordance with E=mc², energy is released in the process.
Fusion is the opposite of fission, where a heavy atom, like uranium, splits apart and releases energy.
Fusion power is fueled by a stable isotope of hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe. It does not produce greenhouse gases or long-lived waste.
Fusion power can be used to make electricity and will be a critical tool in the fight against climate change. Electricity production is responsible for more than 34% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, a number that will continue to increase as we transition to electric vehicles.
Clean, limitless electricity is critical to the future we all want to see in the world. We believe fusion can truly solve climate change on a global scale, keeping our electricity costs low while we ensure that clean water, the internet, air conditioning, and quantum computing are available to everyone, now and in the future.
Scientists have been able to fuse single atoms in a laboratory for many decades. A handful of organizations have performed bulk fusion, where a large volume of particles reaches temperatures high enough for fusion to occur on a large scale.
However, because the temperatures and pressures needed to achieve fusion are hard to replicate on Earth, none of the organizations that have managed to do bulk fusion have done it in a practical way that can be used to make electricity.
Helion is changing that and will make electricity from fusion a reality.
The founders of Helion believe that fusion isn’t a fundamental physical problem, but an engineering problem that will be solved by building, testing, and iterating fusion systems and subsystems. By focusing on our true goal - clean, safe and limitless electricity - we can approach fusion from a new angle.
Our approach does three major things differently from other fusion approaches:
1) We utilize a pulsed non-ignition fusion system. This helps us overcome the hardest physics challenges, keeps our fusion device smaller than other approaches, and allows us to adjust the power output based on need.
2) Our system is built to directly recover electricity. Just like regenerative braking in an electric car, our system is built to recover all unused and new electromagnetic energy efficiently. Other fusion systems heat water to create steam to turn a turbine which loses a lot of energy in the process.
3) We use deuterium and helium-3 (D-³He) as fuel. Helium-3 is a cleaner, higher octane fuel. This helps keep our system small and efficient.
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!)
Scientists theorized about an approach like Helion’s in the late 1950s. However, those brilliant scientists were working in a world without transistors or modern computers and couldn’t prove their concepts.
Technology advancements in computers, electric vehicles, and fiber-optic networking have allowed pioneering concepts to be reimagined and made a reality. Pulsed fusion can be run at full power for a few pulses, or have power output adjusted as needed by adjusting the repetition rate. This lets us build fusion generators that are simpler, faster to iterate, and are lower cost.
In 2020, we completed our 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, we 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.
The Sun's massive size and gravitational pull enable extreme pressures at its core, the perfect conditions for fusion. On Earth, since we don't have the same gravitational force, we have to make the plasma very hot to undergo fusion, even hotter than the sun. Fusion reactions are more likely (and happen faster) as the fuel gets hotter.
100 million degrees Celsius is generally considered the minimum temperature required for large amounts of fusion to occur to generate commercial electricity from fusion. It is also important to have good energy confinement (the rate at which the fuel cools) and sufficient density (amount of fuel) to have small, cost-effective systems.
Helion's 6th prototype, Trenta, reached temperatures greater than 9 keV, equivalent to 104 million degrees Celsius. Helion is the first private fusion company to reach this temperature.
Our 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. Our technical approach reduces efficiency loss, which is key to our ability to commercialize electricity from fusion at very low costs.
The FRC plasmas in our 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.
An FRC is a high-beta plasma configuration, which means that the ratio of the compression pressure from the external magnetic field to the pressure from the plasma’s internal magnetic field is close to 100%. High-beta is what allows Helion to accelerate, translate, compress, and heat a bulk plasma and why compressed FRC plasmas do not have fundamental temperature limits like most other fusion fuel heating mechanisms.
In comparison, a tokamak (another method for fusion magnetic confinement) creates a toroidal shape by having structures inside the hot plasma fuel and have an average beta of 5% or less. This is one of the key advantages to Helion’s approach. The high-beta FRC increases efficiency and allows our machine to directly recover electricity from the plasma.
Fusion reaction rate (the amount of energy produced) scales as magnetic field to the 4th power, an extremely strong scaling. However, that is the magnetic field inside the plasma, not outside, which scales as Beta² and B_external⁴. A 10 Tesla Helion FRC outperforms a 44 Tesla Tokamak.
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 us to scale up the technical advancements we've achieved in our first 6 prototypes to commercial scale. Additionally, we will increase the repetition rate of fusion pulses. In Trenta, we ran fusion pulses once every ten minutes. Polaris will pulse once a second (1 Hz).
We expect that Polaris will be able to demonstrate the production a small amount of net electricity by 2024. We will continue to iterate our device quickly so we can offer commercial fusion power for the grid as soon as possible.
We 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. Our 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.
Helion’s generators run on deuterium, an isotope of hydrogen found in all forms of water, and helium-3, a product of fusing deuterium atoms. The Earth’s oceans contain 10¹⁸ L of deuterium water (D₂0). This is enough to generate 10¹⁶ TWh of electricity, or enough to power all current human energy needs for billions of years.
Helion’s non-ignition fusion approach means that there is no chain reaction, and the machine can be shut off instantly. There is also no risk of a runaway chain reaction.
Helion’s fusion generators will produce some radiation while they run; it will be a small and manageable amount. Helion can use commercially available shielding materials to limit the amount of radiation that leaves the machine.
Helion’s fusion does not produce any long-lived radioactive waste. Our 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 we 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.
Fusion does not produce a chain reaction, so fusion itself is not weaponizable.
Further, no fusion approach uses or produces any plutonium or uranium, the fissile material used in nuclear weapons, and fusion reactions are extremely impractical to utilize for any enrichment processes.
Most importantly, Helion believes that in a world with fusion, there would be no functional need for uranium for anyone. Therefore, fusion could play a pivotal role in true non-proliferation.