Meanwhile, Microsoft is betting one startup can deliver on nuclear fusion by 2028.
Eight U.S. companies developing nuclear fusion energy will receive $46 million in taxpayer funding to pursue pilot plants.
Generating more energy from a fusion reaction than goes into the fusion plant to heat fuel to temperatures of more than 100 million Celsius has eluded scientists for decades.
But more than 30 companies around the world are trying to generate power from fusion, which could one day help the world slash emissions linked to climate change, without producing long-lasting radioactive waste.
Fusion occurs when the nuclei of two light atoms such as hydrogen, heated to extreme temperatures, fuse into one heavier nucleus releasing vast amounts of energy.
The Energy Department’s Milestone-Based Fusion Development Program hopes to help develop pilot-scale demonstration of fusion within a decade.
This is an interesting move, which hopefully signals there is a reality check going on about the efficiency and practicalities associated with solar power and wind farms.
Compared to fission reactions within traditional nuclear power plants that split atoms apart, fusion occurs when atoms are forced together within extremely high temperatures to produce a new, smaller mass atom. The energy generated in this process is massive.
Scientists have achieved a few key advancements in recent research.
On December 21, 2021 a group of researchers saw a nuclear fusion reaction take place that generated a record-breaking 59 megajoules of energy in just a mere five seconds through using sustained fusion energy.
This discovery is one of several major developments over the past year or so that is shaping nuclear fusion technology into a stronger potential candidate for fossil fuel-free energy.
And while many don’t expect a viable fission reactor soon, Microsoft recently announced it has entered into a power purchase agreement with a startup company called Helion Energy that is slated to go into effect in 2028.
Helion was founded in 2013, and received a $375 million investment from OpenAI CEO Sam Altman in 2021, shortly after it became the first private company to build a reactor component capable of reaching 100 million degrees Celsius (180 million degrees Fahrenheit). The optimum temperature for fusion, however, is roughly double that temperature. Meanwhile, Altman’s OpenAI itself garnered a massive partnership with Microsoft earlier this year, and has since integrated its high-profile generative artificial intelligence programming into its products, albeit not without its own controversy.
Helion aims to have its first fusion generator online in 2028. This generator would theoretically provide at least 50 megawatts following a one-year ramp up period—enough energy to power roughly 40,000 homes near a yet-to-be-determined facility location in Washington state. From there, Microsoft plans to pay Helion for its electricity generation as part of its roadmap to match its entire energy consumption with zero-carbon energy purchases by the end of the decade. As CNBC notes, because it’s a power purchase agreement, Helion could face financial penalties for not delivering on its aggressive goal.
In 2015, Helion’s CEO David Kirtley estimated their company would achieve “scientific net energy gain” in nuclear fusion within three years.
Proxima Fusion draws on the W7-X stellarator, both originate from the Max Planck Institute. Credit: Wolfgang Filser via Max Planck Institute.
Munich-based Proxima Fusion has completed its pre-seed fundraising of €7m ($7.5m) for the manufacture of a revolutionary fusion energy machine.
The company will deploy a nuclear fusion device known as a stellarator over the coming years with the power plant due to come online within in 2030s.
I wish these firms a ton of good luck and much success. Hopefully, their projects will mean that wind farms and fields of solar panels kill fewer whales and eagles.
In a somewhat related aside, I am hearing good things about the new movie coming out in July entitled “Oppenheimer.” It sounds like a gripping account of when American science was serious about science and not about supporting the latest woke narrative.DONATE
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