What Does Nuclear Fusion Energy Mean For U.S. Homeowners?
Not sure if you were following the news this past week but for the very first time Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s (LLNL) National Ignition Facility (NIF) was able to produce an excess of nuclear fusion energy. The laboratory at the NIF was able to produce positive energy by containing a frozen pellet of isotopes deuterium and tritium in a gold cylinder and then firing 192 beams from one of the world’s most energetic lasers. Thereafter the cylinder was heated to 5 million degrees Fahrenheit causing a nuclear fusion reaction that generated about 3.15 megajoules (MJ). To simplify that, 3.15 megajoules is equal to 0.875 kilowatts, that’s about enough wattage to boil up ten kettles of water on an electric stove.
The key here is not the amount of power that was generated by nuclear fusion but that we now have an additional source of energy to potentially power our grid. Of course it goes without saying that we would need to figure out how to multiply the chain reaction millions of times in a safe and cost effective manner. Society would then be introduced to a new way of powering our home appliances and HVAC systems that will come from plants similar to the generic nuclear power plant. The White House is excited about nuclear fusion which is why the Biden administration is quickly allocating 50 million dollars to expedite its development. But in truth we are likely still decades away before we can figure out how to mass produce in both a practical and economical sense.
The Challenge For Nuclear Fusion Reactors
The LLNL located in Livermore, CA is not the only ones trying to figure out how to generate energy from nuclear fusion. Government and private entities all around the world are trying to figure out how to safely mass produce but have all run into the same problem of a meager production at a high cost.
Take the ITER Tokamak Fusion Reactor, possibly the largest nuclear fusion reactor in the world. In order to fuel the reaction there needs to be a mixture of deuterium and tritium. Now while the availability of deuterium is cheap and common, tritium is extremely rare and there are only 20 kilograms in global reserves. Tokamak will require 300 grams a day to scale enough energy for commercial production, and that is a problem. Therefore Tokamak will need to produce tritium on site which is extremely complex and amidst the process around 80 percent of the energy is wasted bringing us back to square one. To combat this major issue the first layer of Tokamak walls is made of beryllium (Be), a neutron multiplayer that creates one neutron of tritium and another that generates heat.
But, the problem is that beryllium (Be) is extremely expensive and the global supply is just enough to create a single Tokamak generator. Another issue is that beryllium contains uranium impurities and it will be a challenge to dispose of when the life of the reactor comes to an end. This is not going to work if countries around the world are looking to mass produce nuclear fusion energy to power residential and commercial customers.
Meet Helion – Manufacturer of Safe & Clean Nuclear Fusion Reactors
The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is not the only one who is trying to figure out how to produce energy via nuclear fusion in a cost effective manner. There is a company, Helion Energy located in Everett, Washington that has also successfully generated an output of nuclear fusion energy through one of its nuclear fusion reactors. Unlike the Tokamak reactor located in Southern France, Helion’s 6th fusion prototype, Trenta, is significantly smaller in size making it an economical solution for mass production of nuclear fusion energy. Though only a small amount of energy was generated, its investors are excited that the blueprint for mass production is there but the only question remains is how many years it will take to ramp up its energy output?
How Does Helion Produce Nuclear Fusion Energy?
It’s a complex chain reaction but we will try to simplify what exactly happens in the protective chamber of one of Helion’s nuclear fusion reactors. There are two identical sides of the reactor which looks like a long Tootsie Roll. The nuclear fusion reaction happens at the center where positive energy is released. This is similar to what occurs in a gas powered automobile where the fuel creates combustion which causes the pistons in an engine to go up and down that causes gas powered cars to drive. That is the most elementary way to explain what is happening in a Helion’s nuclear fusion reactor.
But it is way more complicated than a classic Tootsie Roll. The rapper of the nuclear fusion reaction needs to contain a collision of where deuterium and helium-3 is heated to 100,000,000 degrees Celsius which is over fifteen thousand times hotter than the surface of the sun, now that’s hot!
How Does The Helion Reactor Contain Such a Hot Reaction?
Helion uses magnetic fields to contain the elements at 100,000,000 degrees Celsius until it forces the deuterium and helium-3 from either side of the reactor and crashes at the center. It is at this point where nuclear fusion energy is created. As the nuclear fusion reaction occurs at the center, the energy it creates begins to push back on the magnetic field confining it, and moving it just like the way pistons move in an automobile’s engine. It is this changing magnetic field that will generate the electricity and that is able to contain all that heat.
How Does Helion Deal With The Challenge Of Producing Helium-3?
The availability of deuterium is not the challenge, it can be found in a bottle of Poland Spring water, the question is where Helion is getting the helium-3 from? At this point you are probably wondering as to the name of the company, Helion must have something to do with the production of helium-3. Well you are correct, Helion produces its own helium-3.
Helion patented a unique process to produce helium-3 by taking two deuterium commonly found in water and fusing them together to create helium-3. Thereafter the helium-3 is available and fused together with another deuterium to create helium-4 (it’s the helium-4 which is the result of a surplus of energy). Fusing these chemical elements together requires a nuclear generator that has a high powered infusion system where they collide to create positive energy. As per Helion that intense pressurization is accomplished through the use of magnetic fields.
What Is Helion’s Major Challenge?
One of the main challenges that Helion is dealing with is capturing the positive energy and converting it to wattage for regular residential and commercial use. The Tokamak generator in France accomplishes that feat by using the output of neutrons that heats up the reactor and then converts it to electric wattage. As for Helion, since they are using magnetic fields and after the chain reaction occurs the neutrons evaporate into the magnetic field. That is why Helion has decided to use the output of helium-3 to generate 0.82 MeV (maximal extractable value) of electricity. To commercialize the energy produced, Helion will need to build bigger generators which will need to be fueled to maintain the magnetic fields that contain the chain reaction at 100,000,000 degrees Celsius. The current Trenta generator requires 100,000 AMPS on one side and 1,000,000 AMPS on the other. No grid can possibly handle so much, which is a problem for government and local municipalities looking to provide residents with safe and clean nuclear fusion energy.
Perhaps, a solution would be to use a natural source to power the generator like water, solar, and wind. But it seems like that would not be nearly enough to keep up with all the AMP’s that it takes these generators to run. Just looking at the outside of the Trenta generators one can see that power cables at all points to maintain its operation and even with all that, the wattage that it produces is not so much. As in the case at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s National Ignition Facility, the energy that was produced was just enough to boil ten kettles of water. In order for nuclear fusion energy to be a reality these companies are going to have to figure out how to mass scale the output for residential and commercial consumption.
Everyone is excited about what occurred at the laboratory in Livermore, CA but we are not anywhere near speculation for potentially powering our grid to supply energy to our homes and businesses. Ultimately we will figure out how to economically mass produce nuclear fusion energy but we are decades away before that happens. The goal of these companies that manufacture nuclear fusion generators is to be able to mass produce energy cost effectively. That is from the cost of the raw material and more importantly the fuel that keeps them going. It’s going to take time and right now homeowners will still be paying their utility companies monthly. But maybe one day you will get a bill that will be under $10 from an energy company that provides nuclear fusion energy.