Claiming a landmark in fusion energy, TAE Technologies sees commercialization by 2030 – TechCrunch

In a small one An industrial park is almost halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego. One company claims to have reached a milestone in the development of a new technology for generating electricity from nuclear fusion.

20-year-old fusion energy technology developer TAE Technologies said its reactors could operate on a commercial scale by the end of the decade thanks to its newly discovered ability to generate stable plasma at temperatures above 50 million degrees (almost twice as hot as the sun) to create. ,.

The promise of fusion energy, an almost limitless energy source with low emissions and no carbon footprint, has been in place for nearly seventy years since mankind first used the power of nuclear energy. But a number of companies, including TAE, General Fusion, Commonwealth Fusion Systems, and many others in North America and around the world, are making rapid strides in taking technology from science fiction to the real world.

For TAE Technologies, the achievement serves as an endorsement of the life’s work of Norman Rostoker, one of the company’s co-founders, who devoted his life to research into fusion energy and died before he could see that the company he helped found would reached its latest milestone.

“This is an incredibly rewarding milestone and a fitting tribute to the vision of my late mentor, Norman Rostoker,” said Michl Binderbauer, current CEO of TAE, in a statement announcing the company’s performance. “Norman and I wrote a paper in the 1990s in which we theorized that a certain plasma that is dominated by high-energy particles should become increasingly narrow and stable with increasing temperatures. We have now been able to demonstrate this plasma behavior with overwhelming evidence. It is a strong affirmation of our work over the past three decades and a very critical milestone for TAE that proves that the laws of physics are on our side. “

Rostoker’s legacy lives on within TAE via the company’s technology platform, appropriately referred to as “Norman”. Over the past 18 months, this technology has shown consistent performance, reaching over 50 million degrees in several hundred test cycles.

Six years ago, the company had proven that its reactor design could sustain plasma indefinitely – meaning that once the switch is turned on a reaction, the fusion reaction can continue indefinitely. Now the company has reached the temperatures necessary to make its reactors economically viable.

With these milestones, TAE raised an additional $ 280 million in funding for a grand total of $ 880 million, making it one of the best financed private nuclear fusion companies in the world.

“The Norman milestone gives us a high degree of confidence that our unique approach will get the merger under control technologically and, above all, economically,” said Binderbauer. “If we leave the scientific validation phase to develop solutions for our fusion and energy management technologies on a commercial scale, TAE will make a significant contribution to modernizing the entire energy network.”

The company is not generating energy yet and will not be doing so for the foreseeable future. According to Binderbauer, the next goal for the company is to develop the technology to such an extent that the prerequisites for generating energy from a fusion reaction can be created.

“The energy is tiny. It doesn’t matter. It’s a needle in a haystack, ”said Binderbauer. “In terms of the discernibility of the energy, we can use it for diagnosis.”

TAE Technologies Michl Binderbauer stands next to the company’s novel fusion reactor. Photo credit: TAE Technologies

Follow the sun

It took TAE Technologies $ 150 million and five iterations to get to Norman, its national laboratory-scale fusion device. The company said it had conducted over 25,000 fully integrated nuclear tests on fusion reactors, optimized using machine learning programs developed in partnership with Google, and processing power from the Department of Energy’s INCITE program, which enables computing at the exascale level uses.

The new machine was first put into operation in summer 2017. Before it could even be built, TAE Technologies experimented for a decade just to get close to building a physical prototype. By 2008, the first construction began with integrated experiments to make a plasma core and infuse it with some energetic particles. The feeder technology and the carriers alone cost $ 100 million, said Binderbauer. Then the company had to develop other technologies like vacuum conditioning. Additionally, power control mechanisms had to be put in place to ensure that the company’s 3 megawatt power supply could be stored in enough restraint systems to enable a 750 megawatt energy response.

Ultimately, it had to harness the machine learning capabilities of companies like Google and harness the computing power of the Department of Energy to manage calculations that could use the theorems that defined Rostoker’s life’s work and prove they could get real.

“When Norman became an operating machine, four generations of machines had preceded it. Of these, there were two fully integrated and two generations of incremental machines that can do some, but not all, of them. “

Burning problems of fusion energy

While the merger shows promise as a carbon-free energy source, it is not without serious limitations, as Andy Jassby, former chief physicist at Princeton Plasma Physics Lab, noted in a 2017 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists article.

Jassby wrote:

Earth-based fusion reactors that burn neutron-rich isotopes have anything but harmless by-products: energetic neutron currents make up 80 percent of the fusion energy of deuterium-tritium reactions and 35 percent of deuterium-deuterium reactions.

Well, an energy source that is 80 percent energetic neutron streams may be the perfect neutron source, but it’s really bizarre that it should ever be called the ideal electrical energy source. In fact, these neutron fluxes directly lead to four unfortunate problems with nuclear energy: radiation damage to structures; radioactive waste; the need for biological shielding; and the potential for the production of weapons-grade plutonium 239 – which increases the risk of nuclear proliferation, not diminishes it, as would fusion proponents.

If fusion reactors were indeed feasible – as assumed here – they would share some of the other serious problems plaguing fission reactors, including tritium release, discouraging coolant requirements, and high operating costs. There will also be additional disadvantages unique to fusion devices: the use of a fuel (tritium) that does not occur in nature and must be replenished by the reactor itself; and unavoidable on-site power outflows that drastically reduce the power available for sale.

According to a company spokesman, TAE Technologies is aware of the issues and the company has taken note of the issues Jassby raised in its product development, the spokesman said.

“All references to tritium are precisely the reason why TAE focused on pB-11 as the starting material from the very beginning (early 1990s). TAE will achieve the DT conditions as a natural stepping stone for pB-11 as it boils at “only” 100 Mc while pB-11 is above 1 Mc, “the spokesman wrote in a response. “It seems a lot harder to scale to 1 million, but this milestone proves that the scaling law for the type of fusion that TAE creates is created in a FRC (the linear design of ‘Norman’ as opposed to the donut) Tokamaks) The hotter the plasma, the more stable it becomes. It’s the opposite of a [Tokamak]. The milestone gives them scientific confidence that they can raise temperatures beyond DT to pB11 and realize the fusion with boron – cheap, aneutronic, abundant – the ideal terrestrial source material (let’s not mine the moon after helium-3!). “

In terms of power, the TAE Fusion Reactor can convert a 2MW mains supply to 750MW draws on the machine without turning off Orange County’s grid (and having to prove it to SCE), and scale the power demand in microseconds, to get plasma and course correct plasmas In real time the speaker wrote.

In fact, TAE will outsource its energy management technology into a separate business that will focus on high-end shaving, energy storage and battery management on the grid and in electric vehicles.

A “safer” fusion technology?

The hydrogen-boron or p-B11 fuel cycle is the most abundant fuel source on earth, according to the company, and will be the ultimate feedstock for TAE Technologies’ reactor, according to the company. But first, like most other companies currently developing fusion technologies, TAE will work with deuterium-tritium as a fuel source.

The “Copernicus” demonstration plant, which is being built with part of the new capital announced by the company, will begin with the DT fuel cycle and eventually make the switch. Over time, TAE hopes to license the DT technology while achieving the ultimate goal.

The company’s money by milestone approach is funded by some of the richest families, businesses and businesses in the world. Supporters are Vulcan, Venrock, NEA, Wellcome Trust, Google and the Kuwait Investment Authority. Likewise the family offices of Addison Fischer, Art Samberg and Charls Schwab.

“TAE delivers the wonders the 21st century needs,” said Addison Fischer, TAE board director and longtime investor who has spent decades in nature conservation and environmental issues. Fischer also founded VeriSign and is a pioneer in defining and implementing the security technologies that underlie modern electronic commerce. “TAE’s recent funding enables the company to take its penultimate step towards implementing sustainable aneutronic fusion and energy management solutions that will benefit the planet.”

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