Nuclear fusion has long been the holy grail of energy—massive amounts of carbon-neutral energy combined with waste that is radioactive for a relatively short 50-to-70 years. In comparison, nuclear fission produces waste that is radioactive for thousands of years. Now Helion Energy seeks $20 million in financing to build a full-scale fusion engine that could one day be used to produce heat in power plants. Currently, most power plants use burning coal or natural gas for heat.
The start-up already has a one-third model of its engine, which works with a hot, ionized hydrogen gas (Field Reversed Configuration plasma) that is electromagnetically accelerated to over 1 million mph and collided in a 50 million degree burn chamber to create energy. If Helion receives funding, prototypes of the engine will by ready by 2011 or 2012, with a commercial model available in a decade. Before Helion can go commercial, it will need another $100 million to begin production. In the end, though, power from fusion will be cheaper than fission-based power because of the lack of safety regulations to deal with.
Other companies working on fusion technology include Tri-Alpha Energy, Burnaby, and General Fusion. Helion thinks that it can commercialize fusion technology faster than its competitors—depending on whether the start-up gets funding.