A Bold Promise to Take the World Towards Cleaner Pastures

Over the years, many different traits have tried to define human beings, but truth be told, none have done a better job than our tendency of improving at a continuous clip. This tendency to grow, no matter the situation, has brought the world some huge milestones, with technology emerging as quite a major member of the group. The reason why we hold technology in such a high regard is, by and large, based on its skill-set, which guided us towards a reality that nobody could have ever imagined otherwise. Nevertheless, if we look beyond the surface for a second, it will become clear how the whole runner was also very much inspired from the way we applied those skills across a real world environment. The latter component was, in fact, what gave the creation a spectrum-wide presence, and as a result, kickstarted a full-blown tech revolution. Of course, this revolution then went on to scale up the human experience through some outright unique avenues, but even after achieving a feat so notable, technology will somehow continue to bring forth the right goods. The same has turned more and more evident over the recent past, and assuming one new discovery ends up with the desired impact, it will only put that trend on a higher pedestal moving forward.

Microsoft has officially entered into an agreement to with a Washington-based company named Helion Energy to purchase nuclear-fusion-generated electricity, which is understood to be a limitless source of clean energy. Before we touch on the specifics of this deal, we must look at what makes it such a landmark thing. You see, nuclear fusion comes to life when hydrogen nuclei fuse together and create helium, thus generating a tremendous amount of clean and sustainable energy. This is quite different from our current method of generating electricity, a method that does the job by applying one concept called fission. Now, the problem here is how the fission-driven methodology leaves behind unstable nuclei which can stay radioactive for millions of years. Fusion, on the other hand, doesn’t pose such a hazard because it is focused just on creating new helium atoms. However, even if we talk about the climate-centric fusion technology, it mainly consists of methods like shooting powerful laser beams at a tiny target or relying on magnetic fields to confine superheated matter called plasma with a machine called a tokamak. Interestingly enough, Microsoft’s new partner Helion rejects both the stated approaches. The company is instead developing a 40-foot device called a plasma accelerator that heats fuel to 100 million degrees Celsius. Next up, it heats deuterium (an isotope of hydrogen) and helium-3 into a plasma and then uses pulsed magnetic fields to compress the plasma until fusion happens. Another detail worth a mention is how the whole machinery will also be given the capability to recapture the electricity used in triggering the reaction, something which can be used to recharge the device’s magnets.

“We electrically recover all the energy we put into fusion so that we can actually build systems that are smaller and cheaper and we can iterate on them a lot quicker,” said David Kirtley, CEO and founder of Helion Energy.

Under the agreed terms with Microsoft, Helion has pledged to start supplying the electricity by 2028, and as for the quantity, it will look to generate 50 megawatts or greater after a one-year ramp-up period. To put it into perspective, one megawatt can supply up to about 1,000 U.S. homes on any normal day.

“Fifty megawatts is a big first step of commercial-scale fusion, and the revenue feeds right back into us developing more power plants and getting fusion out on the grid both in the United States and internationally as fast as possible,” said Kirtley.

While the timeline and quantity seems like a challenge in itself, there is also the concern of finding enough helium-3 fuel. Fortunately, going by Helion’s word, it has already patented a process to make helium-3 by fusing deuterium atoms together in its plasma accelerator. Still, though, there remains a major question over whether the company will manage to stitch the whole thing together like it has so boldly promised.

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