WASHINGTON, May 10 (Reuters) – Private U.S. nuclear fusion company Helion Energy will supply electricity to Microsoft ( MSFT.O ) for about five years, the companies said on Wednesday, in the first deal for the source of electricity that fuels the sun but has become elusive on Earth.
Government laboratories and more than 30 companies are racing to generate power from fusion, which could one day help reduce emissions linked to climate change. Unlike today’s fission reactors, it can generate electricity without producing long-term radioactive waste.
Fusion occurs when two light atoms such as hydrogen, heated to extreme temperatures, fuse with a heavier atom, releasing large amounts of energy. So far, fusion reactions in the ground are short-lived and absorb more energy than they release, but companies have raised about $5 billion in private funding in the quest to achieve a net energy gain.
The Helion plant is expected to come online in 2028 and will target power generation of 50 megawatts or more after a one-year ramp-up period, it said. One megawatt can supply up to about 1,000 US homes on a typical day.
“Fifty megawatts is a huge first step of commercial-scale fusion, and the revenue feeds back into us building more power plants and getting fusion on the grid both in the United States and around the world as quickly as possible. can,” said David Kirtley, Washington state-based founder and CEO of Helion, in an interview.
Polaris, the seventh-generation Helion engine, should come online next year and demonstrate power generation, using pulsed high-power magnet technology to achieve fusion, Kirtley said. By 2021, Helion will be the first private company to achieve 100 million degrees Celsius (180 million degrees Fahrenheit) and the optimum temperature for fusion is about twice that, Kirtley said.
While many companies are looking to fuse tritium, a rare hydrogen isotope, to help fuel reactions, Helion plans to use Helium 3, a rare type of gas used in quantum computing.
To date, Helion has raised more than $570 million in private capital, with OpenAI CEO Sam Altman providing $375 million in 2021.
Brad Smith, vice chair and president at Microsoft Corp, said in a news release that Helion’s work “supports our own long-term clean energy goals and advances the market to establish a new, efficient way for bringing cleaner energy to the grid, faster.”
The companies did not disclose the financial details or timing of the power purchase agreement, or which Microsoft facilities will get the fusion-generated electricity.
Kimberly Budil, the head of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which is experimenting with fusion, said last December that decades of research and investment could put scientists in a position to build a power plant.
Helion still needs design and construction approvals from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), as well as local permits. But the fusion industry was happy with the NRC’s decision last month to separate regulation of fusion from fission, a move backers say could reduce timelines for license approvals.
Andrew Holland, head of the Fusion Industry Association, said nothing about fusion has been easy and the power purchase contract is likely to have clauses about the timing of power delivery. But he said the deal shows confidence in the development.
“The business world is starting to understand that consolidation is coming and probably sooner than many people thought,” Holland said in an interview. “It’s a vote of confidence that Helion is on its way, as are other companies building their proof-of-concept machines today.”
Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Jacqueline Wong
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