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American Fusion Company Says It Will Get Energy Breakeven This Year

Printable version / Version imprimable

EIRNS—S&P Global Commodity Insights,in a Jan. 5 paper on the funding of private fusion R&D companies, reported that Helion Energy in Washington State says it will produce net energy—or “fusion ignition”—during 2024, from the latest iteration of its Polaris experimental device. While the forecast is somewhat hedged by CEO David Kirtley, success would likely make Helion second to the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The NIF produced “energy out” of up to 3.9 megajoules in four ignition achievements in 2022-23, with laser “energy in” ranging from 1.9 to 2.2 megajoules. The National Ignition Facility (NIF) tentatively plans a February 2024 test as its fifth replication of “ignition,” and is hoping for 5 megajoules output with input of 2.2 megajoules.

Helion Energy’s experimental work was reported on by EIR in January 2023 in the context of an educational video by The LaRouche Organization on fusion research advances. It can be traced back to the “field-reversed magnetic mirror” concept described in the U.S. government’s first publication on fusion research, Project Sherwood, in 1958. That work was begun, in fact, at the Livermore Laboratory. This is a pulsed process, in which charged particles are first super-heated while magnetically compressed to a high-density plasma, and the plasma is then “permitted to expand against the magnetic field, producing electrical power directly in external circuits.” The 1958 report added, “The above concept was admittedly looking far into the future. It nevertheless set a possible goal toward which one might begin to move.” Fusion pioneers worked on the idea, including collaborators with Lyndon LaRouche’s Fusion Energy Foundation.

These private fusion companies are being teamed up with three U.S. national labs in the Biden Administration’s claimed “commercialization in a decade” strategy, and the coordinating labs are being given grants significantly smaller than the investments some of the private companies are getting from venture capitalists. This strategy is supposed to beat China, which has the most dynamic advanced-nuclear/fusion program. China has developed an operating high-temperature gas-cooled reactor, is testing a small modular nuclear reactor, will have a fusion-fission hybrid breeder reactor operating in this decade at Hefei, and has achieved the longest periods of stable plasma confinement in the world by far, in its two large experimental Tokamak fusion reactors. [pbg]