CleanTech Innovation Showcase Presenting Company Recap: Helion Energy
By Nick Montoni
CleanTech Alliance Contributor
When we think about nuclear energy, most of us probably think of huge reactors on lakes with massive cooling stacks and billowing clouds of steam. These are nuclear fission facilities, in which very heavy elements like uranium and plutonium are split open, producing massive amounts of energy.
Dr. David Kirtley, CEO and cofounder of Helion Energy, presented at the 2017 CleanTech Innovation Showcase about small-scale, efficient nuclear fusion. Fusion is the opposite of fission, taking small elements like hydrogen and helium and smashing them together to produce bigger atoms and energy. Fusion is the process that occurs inside our sun at millions of degrees and thousands of atmospheres of pressure, so one might wonder how on earth this would be possible.
The answer is a system that works much like a diesel engine. Fuel, in this case a mixture of deuterium (hydrogen with an extra neutron) and helium-3 (helium with an extra neutron), is injected into a chamber. The fuel is heated to millions of degrees and compressed to thousands of atmospheres using intense magnetic fields. When the fuel fuses, it releases energy and byproducts, which are used to produce current. The current state-of-the-art technology allows for the production of nearly eight times the energy that is used to fuse the fuels, in millisecond bursts.
This is an attractive setup, as “magneto-inertial fusion” offers a route to small-scale, affordable, and efficient fusion technology. Helion has five functional protoypes and they are ready to move on to the challenge of commercialization, with a full-scale fusion system set to come online in 2018.