Microsoft announced on May 10th that they have signed a power purchase agreement (PPA) with nuclear fusion company Helion Energy. The latter plans to initiate operation for the first nuclear fusion power plant before 2028 at a targeted power generation of 50MW.
More than 30 companies around the world are currently engaged in the nuclear fusion competition to see who is going to first accomplish power generation through nuclear fusion, however, nuclear fusion is difficult pertaining to fusing two lighter atoms into a heavier single atom under high temperature and pressure, where the significant energy released throughout the process would then be used to generate electricity. With that being said, nuclear reaction time has always been short for laboratories until now, with greater input energy than output.
Helion currently has more than US$570 million of commercial funds, with Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, also investing US$375 million back in 2021. Helion’s power plant is scheduled for operation starting from 2028, before arriving at 50MW of power generation one year after. David Kirtley, founder and CEO of Helion, commented that 50MW is an essential step in commercial nuclear fusion.
Helion’s 7th gen prototype Polaris will start generating power next year, and attain nuclear fusion using high-power electromagnetic pulse and Helium 3 fuels. Kirtley commented that Helion will be the first private company to achieve 100 million Celsius in temperature, where the optimal temperature for nuclear fusion is about twofold of that.
The two companies, however, did not reveal details regarding the finance or schedule of the PPA, and what infrastructures will Microsoft adopt nuclear fusion power on remain unknown thus far.
Kimberley Budil, director of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, commented in December last year that the amount of research and funds from over the past several decades is now enough in establishing a power plant. Although Helion is still waiting for the design and construction approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), as well as local approvals. However, NRC had divided nuclear fusion and nuclear fission last month, which is expected to shorten the time of approval.
Andrew Holland, CEO of Fusion Industry Association, also pointed out that nuclear fusion is not easy in attainment, and that PPA contracts should also include the time of nuclear fusion power, but what this transaction means is that the two parties are at least building trust.
(Cover photo source: Helion)