View of the end of Helion’s seventh generation model, Polaris.

Image courtesy Helion

Microsoft said on Wednesday it had signed a power purchase agreement with nuclear fusion startup Helion Energy to buy electricity from it in 2028.

The deal is a notable vote of confidence for the merger, which is The way the sun makes energy It promises the potential to generate nearly unlimited clean energy, if it can be harnessed and commercialized on Earth. For decades, fusion has been hailed as the holy grail of clean energy — baffling because it is boundless and clean, but always elusive.

As responding to climate change becomes an increasingly pressing goal for companies and countries around the world, investors have flocked. 5 billion dollars for private merger companies Looking to turn that holy grail into electrons flowing through the wires.

Microsoft’s agreement to buy electricity from Helion marks the first time a merger company has anticipated a deal to sell electricity, according to Microsoft Andrew Holland, CEO, Fusion Industry Association.

“This is the first time I’m aware of a company having a signed power purchase agreement,” Holland told CNBC. “Nobody has connected electricity, and Helion’s goal for 2028 is tough, but they have a solid plan for how to get there.”

Helion was Founded in 2013 It currently has about 150 employees, and is headquartered in Everett, Washington. One of the first and most important investors in Hellion is Sam Altman, who is also a founder Open AI, the artificial intelligence organization that developed the ChatGPT chat platform, in which Microsoft has invested billions of dollars. Altman believes that the two deals have equally important and related components to the future he sees for humanity.

“My vision for the future and why I love these two companies is that if we can push cost intelligence and energy cost forward, the quality of life for all of us will go up incredibly,” Altman told CNBC. “If we can make more powerful AI systems for less and less money — the same thing we’re trying to do with energy at Helion — then I see these two projects as very compatible spiritually.”

OpenAI CEO Samuel Altman speaks to the media after meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at the Prime Minister’s Office in Tokyo on April 10, 2023.

Yomiuri Shimbun | AP

If the demand for and use of AI continues to increase, this will lead to an increase in energy demand as well.

Altman told CNBC that the merger potential is “incredibly huge.” “If we can make this work—if we can truly make the dream of clean, cheap, safe energy that transforms society come true. That’s why I’ve been so excited about this project for so long.”

In 2021, Altman told CNBC he put $375 million into Hellion. As of Tuesday, that remains his largest investment ever, Altman told CNBC. In total, Helion has collected $577 million.

Why is Helion announcing the 2028 target now

Hellion Founders. Left to right: Chris Behl (CTO), David Kirtley (Chief Executive Officer), George Futrobeck (Director of Research).

Image courtesy Helion

Altman called on the two companies to work together, he told CNBC, but the deal was the result of work Helion had done independently. He said, “It was not my doing.”

Microsoft and Helion have been working together for years, Kirtley told CNBC. “The first visit we had from the Microsoft team was probably three of our prototypes many years ago. After that we’ve been working very closely with their data center technology team here in Redmond,” Kirtley said.

After all, Microsoft needs to be strong and has aggressive climate goals. Microsoft has a goal of having 100% of its electricity consumption, 100% of the time, matched by carbon-neutral energy purchases by 2030. Carbon-free energy includes hydro, nuclear and renewables for Microsoft, a Microsoft spokesperson told CNBC.

“We are optimistic that fusion energy can be an important technology to help the world transition to clean energy,” Brad Smith, president of Microsoft, said in a written statement. “Helion’s announcement supports our long-term clean energy goals and will drive the market to create a new, efficient way to bring more clean energy to the grid faster.”

An electrical engineer preparing for an exam in Helion.

Image courtesy Helion

For Helion to deliver fusion-generated electricity to customers, it required years of advance planning on the transportation and regulatory fronts.

In this way, announcing a contract now to sell electricity in 2028 gives Helion time to plan and choose a site in Washington state to place this new fusion device.

“One of the reasons we’re making the announcement today is so we can work with the communities involved, we can work with the regulators, the energy utility to cite this now,” Kirtley told CNBC. “Even five years is a short period of time to get online. And we want to make sure we can do that.”

In fact, the transmission system in the United States, that is, the chain of wires that carry electricity from the place of its generation to the place of its use, is greatly exploited. Getting new power generation connected to the grid could take years. Helion works with constellation to secure its transmission needs.

We are not here to build systems in the lab.

The best known fusion marketing route is a donut-shaped device called a tokamak. A project called International Integration is under construction in the south of France ITER He builds a tokamak and Commonwealth Fusion SystemsIt is a startup company out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Raised over $2 billion in financingusing the tokamak technique. For comparison, CFS plans to build the first power plant on the grid and sell electricity in the early 2030s.

Helion does not build tokamak. It builds a long narrow device called the inverse domain configuration.

Diagram showing how Helion’s fusion technology works.

Infographic from Helion

In general, the Helion approach involves shooting plasma (the fourth state of matter after solid, liquid, and gaseous) from both ends of the device at speeds greater than a million miles per hour. The two streams collide with each other, creating a dense, superheated plasma, where fusion takes place.

Kirtley told CNBC that Helion is currently building its seventh-generation fusion machine, called Polaris, which aims to produce electricity by next year.

“We’re not here to build systems in a lab. We’re here to sell electricity. That was always the dream,” Altman told CNBC.

So far, Helion has been able to generate energy with its fusion prototypes, but it has not yet built a device that produces more electricity than it uses to power the fusion device. So the company has a lot of work to do.

To that, “there were a lot of people who were skeptical about AI six months ago, too,” Altmann says.

“Either the technology here is going to work or not. There are still a lot of huge challenges to figure out — how are we going to get it so low cost, how are we going to manufacture at scale — but on the ability to do physics,” Altman told CNBC. We feel very confident.” “And I think it’s good that people have doubts about that. But also the way you ultimately reduce that suspicion is to show people that it actually works in the commercial environment, like offering this deal.”

Helion is making progress over a few major obstacles.

For example, the company has begun making its own capacitors, which are sort of like ultra-efficient batteries and one of Helion’s big capital costs.

It has also begun to produce the very rare fuel it uses, helium-3, which is a very rare form of helium with one extra proton. It was used to obtain helium-3 from the US government’s strategic reserves.

Next, Helion has to prove that its hardware can work reliably for extended periods of time, and Kirtley has the team work on the durability of the components used in the device.

If Helion succeeds, it will be a major milestone for the entire fusion industry.

“It really suggests that the consolidation era is coming. And we’re all very excited about that,” Kirtley told CNBC.

revision: The final product Helion expects to achieve is 20 times the amount it was approved to sell to Microsoft. An earlier version of this article misstated complications.

The race is on to replicate the power of the sun with fusion energy


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