Helion Energy plans to build modular power fusion reactors using somewhat larger than shipping container sized, 50 Megawatt modules for distributed base load power generation. Helion uses Magneto-Inertial Fusion that combines the stability of steady magnetic fusion and the heating of pulsed inertial fusion. They claim they have a commercially practical system that is smaller and lower cost than existing programs. (H/T Next Big Future.)

In simple lay terms the Helion reactor uses two funnels mated at the small ends. At the mating point is where the two fuel loads meet. A fuel is loaded at each outer end. The large ends of the funnels are surrounded with a series of electromagnets that reduce in size as the fuel works its way down to the smaller end of the funnel. The compression of the fuel in the smaller and smaller electromagnet confinements added to the very high speed is the energy input to the fuel that incites fusion events during a collision at the smallest central point.

The fuel is compressed and heated by magnetic fields operated with modern solid state electronics. At each electromagnet ring the fuel increases speed from the magnet pulses. Helion says the fuel heated from the compression to a plasma enters the fusion reaction chamber at over 1 million miles per hour.

Helion's Fusion Process Steps.  Click image for the largest view.

Helion’s Fusion Process Steps. Click image for the largest view.

The result is a fusion event that releases heat at over 100 million degrees. Helion proposes to convert the heated and rapidly expanding plasma directly into electricity.

The starting fuel is deuterium that can be reclaimed from seawater. One reaction waste material is tritium, a material in short supply that also can be stored and decays to Helium3 that can also be used as a fuel. Another waste is simply Helium3 that can recycled back as fuel immediately.

This system offers some very attractive aspects. There is nothing to “melt down”, although at 1 million degrees is it seems possible that things could be melted. There is no hazardous waste in the conventional sense. Nor are there masses of radioactive materials or used equipment. The Helion concept is about as clean as energy generation is going to get.

Of course there are unresolved issues. Helion hopes to recover up to 90% of the energy used to power the electromagnets back into capacitors. This is a substantial engineering challenge. The recovery leads to matters about repeating the process and engineering to build in reliability for years of use.

The reliability matter asks question on the lifetime of the interior walls. They are subjected to high magnetism that pulsates each second, while holding high temperature plasma that reacts in fusion to even higher temperatures.

Then the matter becomes operating the process in the aiming of the two incoming plasma fuel charges that would affect the productivity of a unit and other issues that constant operation are going to reveal.

One point that needs considered is the Helion unit, once it achieves operations at commercial generating status is there is kick start power input needed to start up. As conceived so far the reactor will need a power source to start.

Helion looks like a leader and is gaining technical proficiency fast. There doesn’t seem to be any physics theory matters casting doubt. Nor are the financials looking desperate. The Department of Energy has awarded $5 million, a paltry sum, while the firm is raising $35 million independently.

Helion’s reactor and the theory behind it look sound. The issues to be worked out are engineering and materials science. The effort may well see some commercial success. There is a long way to go, but Helion is optimistic that a 2019 commercial offering date in the plan can be met.

More likely is that Helion will face things as others do in finding and or building components that meet the newly established specifications.

Helion first saw fusion in 2010. That may turn out to be the easy part.


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