Fusion energy holds the promise of virtually limitless, clean power production, but scientists have been unable to successfully harness it as a power source due to complex scientific and technological challenges and the high cost of research. To achieve fusion, a plasma fuel called a target is heated and compressed, causing its nuclei to fuse. However, it is challenging to maintain the temperature and stability of the plasma long enough for fusion to take place. With today’s technology, the reactor systems must be very large and complex, making the reactors, and fusion research in general, both very expensive. Further, many of the current experimental techniques are destructive, meaning that pieces of the experimental set up are destroyed with each experiment and need to be replaced, adding to the cost and time required for research. The ALPHA program aims to develop low-cost tools and approaches that will accelerate low-cost paths toward achievement of a viable fusion reactor.
Project Innovation + Advantages:
Helion Energy's team will develop a prototype device that will explore a potential low-cost path to fusion for a less expensive, simplified reactor design. In contrast to conventional designs, this prototype will be smaller than a semi-trailer – reducing cost and complexity. The smaller size is achieved by using new techniques to achieve the high temperatures and densities required for fusion. The research team will produce these conditions using field-reversed configuration (FRC) plasmas, a special form of plasma that may offer significant advantages for fusion research. FRC plasmas are movable – they can be produced at one location and then moved into the fusion chamber, which prevents the hot fusion products from damaging the FRC formation hardware. FRC plasmas also have an embedded magnetic field which helps them retain heat. Helion’s reactor employs a pulsed heating technique that uses a series of magnetic coils to compress the plasma fuel to very high temperatures and densities. The reactor will also capture and reuse the magnetic energy used to heat and confine the plasma, further increasing efficiency. The smaller size and reduced complexity of the reactor’s design will decrease research and development costs and speed up research progress in developing the efficiencies required for fusion power production.
If successful, Helion’s project will demonstrate a new low-cost path to achieving economical fusion power production.
Helion’s innovation could accelerate the development of cost-effective fusion reactors, which could provide a nearly limitless supply of domestic power and eliminate dependence on foreign sources of energy and limited fuel supplies.
Fusion reactors offer nearly zero emissions and produce manageable waste products. If widely adopted, they could significantly reduce or nearly eliminate carbon emissions from the power production sector.
Helion’s reactor design, if viable, would present a low-cost path to fusion, reducing the costs of developing and building economical fusion reactors.