Frequently Asked Questions
Fusion is the process the sun and stars use to make energy.
Fusion occurs when two atoms combine together to form a single atom under intense heat and pressure. The combined atom has less mass than the original two atoms. In accordance with E=mc², energy is released in the process.
Fusion is the opposite of fission, where a heavy atom, like uranium, splits apart and releases energy.
Fusion power is fueled by a stable isotope of hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe. It does not produce greenhouse gases or long-lived waste.
Fusion power can be used to make electricity and will be a critical tool in the fight against climate change. Electricity production is responsible for more than 34% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, a number that will continue to increase as we transition to electric vehicles.
Clean, limitless electricity is critical to the future we all want to see in the world. We believe fusion can truly solve climate change on a global scale, keeping our electricity costs low while we ensure that clean water, the internet, air conditioning, and quantum computing are available to everyone, now and in the future.
Scientists have been able to fuse single atoms in a laboratory for many decades. A handful of organizations have performed bulk fusion, where a large volume of particles reaches temperatures high enough for fusion to occur on a large scale.
However, because the temperatures and pressures needed to achieve fusion are hard to replicate on Earth, none of the organizations that have managed to do bulk fusion have done it in a practical way that can be used to make electricity.
Helion seeks to change that.
The founders of Helion believe that fusion isn’t a physics problem, but an engineering problem that will be solved by building, testing, and iterating fusion systems and subsystems. By focusing on our true goal - clean, safe and limitless electricity - we can approach fusion from a new angle.
Our approach does three major things differently from other fusion approaches:
1) We utilize a pulsed fusion system. This helps us overcome the hardest physics challenges, keeps our fusion device smaller than other approaches, and allows us to adjust the power output based on need.
2) Our system is built to directly recover electricity. Just like regenerative braking in an electric car, our system is built to recover all unused and new electromagnetic energy efficiently. Other fusion systems heat water to create steam to turn a turbine which loses a lot of energy in the process.
3) We use deuterium and helium-3 (D-³He) as fuel. Helium-3 is a cleaner, higher octane fuel. This helps keep our system small and efficient.
Scientists theorized about an approach like Helion’s in the late 1950s. However, those brilliant scientists were working in a world without transistors or modern computers and couldn’t prove their concepts. Technology advancements in computers, electric vehicles, and fiber-optic networking have allowed pioneering concepts to be reimagined and made a reality. Pulsed fusion can be run at full power for a few pulses, or have power output adjusted as needed by adjusting the repetition rate. This lets us build fusion generators that are simpler, faster to iterate, and are lower cost.
In 2020, we completed our 6th prototype, Trenta. Trenta runs nearly every day doing fusion. It has completed almost 10,000 high-power pulses and operated continuously for 16 months. With Trenta, Helion became the first private organization to reach temperatures of 100 million degrees Celsius.
We estimate that Helion’s fusion power will be one of the lowest cost sources of electricity.
There are four main components of electricity cost: 1) Capital cost 2) Operating cost 3) Up-time 4) Fuel cost. Helion’s fusion power plant is projected to have negligible fuel cost, low operating cost, high up-time and competitive capital cost because we can do fusion so efficiently.
Helion’s levelized cost of electricity is projected to be less than $0.04 per kWh without assuming any economies of scale from mass production, carbon credits, or government incentives.
Helion’s generators run on deuterium, an isotope of hydrogen found in all forms of water. The Earth’s oceans contain 10¹⁸ L of deuterium water (D₂0). This is enough to generate 10¹⁶ TWh of electricity, or enough to power all current human energy needs for billions of years.
Helion’s non-ignition fusion approach means that there is no chain reaction, and the machine can be shut off instantly.
Helion’s fusion generators would produce radiation while they run, but, like an x-ray machine at a hospital, it would be a relatively small amount, and Helion uses shielding to limit the amount of radiation that leaves the machine.
If someone were to stand at our site’s perimeter for every second of an entire year, the extra radiation they experience would be:
-Half as much as one airplane flight between New York and Los Angeles
-About as much as spending two weeks in Denver
-Half as much as the radiation received from eating a banana every day for a year
Helion’s fusion does not produce any long-lived radioactive waste. Our machine does produce tritium, which is commonly used in commercial applications such as wristwatches and exit signs. Tritium’s half-life is only 12 years (compared to 24,000 years for fission waste). And as tritium decays, it turns into helium-3, which we use as fusion fuel. Therefore, Helion recycles 100% of its byproduct materials over time.
In addition to tritium, the radiation from fusion does create some “activated materials” over the operating life of a power plant. Helion’s plants have been specifically designed to only use materials that would result in low activation, similar to what might be created by medical devices or other particle accelerators.
Our expectation is that a Helion plant could be fully decommissioned within a week without any lasting environmental impact.
Fusion does not produce a chain reaction, so fusion itself is not weaponizable.
Further, no fusion approach uses or produces any plutonium or uranium, the fissile material used in nuclear weapons, and fusion reactions are extremely impractical to utilize for any enrichment processes.
Most importantly, Helion believes that in a world with fusion, there would be no functional need for uranium for anyone. Therefore, fusion could play a pivotal role in true non-proliferation.