Frequently Asked Questions

Dr. Norman Rostoker (1925 – 2014)

What is TAE Technologies?

TAE Technologies develops breakthrough solutions to the most complex problems of our time. The company was founded in 1998 with the goal to develop and distribute safe, cost-effective commercial fusion energy with the cleanest environmental profile. With more than 1,400 patents and over $750 million in private capital, TAE Technologies is now on the cusp of delivering a transformational energy source capable of sustaining the planet into the future. The company’s revolutionary technology has launched a robust portfolio of spinoff opportunities in critical markets such as electric mobility, power management, life sciences, and more. Multidisciplinary and mission-driven by nature, TAE Technologies is leveraging proprietary science and engineering to create a bright future for us all.

Why is TAE Technologies pursuing fusion energy?

TAE views carbon-free fusion technology as a vital, cost competitive component of the future global energy supply. We are a mission-based company, dedicated to reducing human impact on the environment through a brand new source of safe, clean, economic, renewable power.

What differentiates TAE Technologies from other fusion efforts?

The essential requirement for capturing net energy across all approaches to fusion is high quality plasma confinement. TAE Technologies has developed a proprietary platform that we call an advanced beam-driven Field-Reversed Configuration (FRC), which combines accelerator physics and plasma physics to solve the challenge of confinement, both from a cost and performance perspective. Since our inception in 1998, we have been committed to pursuing a fuel cycle based on safe, plentiful hydrogen-boron, also known as proton-boron or p-B11, which avoids any environmental impact, particulate emissions and radioactivity. In addition, this fuel cycle maximizes the durability and lifetime of our plants. Our configuration can uniquely accommodate hydrogen-boron, and also operate on deuterium-helium-3 (D-He-3) and conventional deuterium-tritium (D-T) fuel.

What is hydrogen-boron or p-B11 fusion and why is it TAE's preferred pathway?

Proton is a hydrogen atom stripped of its electron; boron is a light, non-radioactive element that is used in detergents and other industrial commodities. Hydrogen-boron, also known as proton-boron or p-B11, represents the cleanest terrestrially abundant fusion fuel cycle and the ideal fuel source for TAE's commercial fusion solution.

What are C-2W/Norman’s dimensions and operating conditions?

Our $100M National Laboratory-scale fusion device, C-2W, is TAE's fifth-generation fusion reactor prototype, affectionately named Norman after our late technology co-founder, Dr. Norman Rostoker. Norman operates on hydrogen and deuterium fuel for the purpose of creating plasma and researching its confinement. From mid-2016 through mid-2017, we constructed Norman from scratch and now perform an average of 650 experiments per month. Norman is roughly 24 meters/80 feet long, 7m/22ft high and weighs about 27 metric tons/60,000 lbs. The center of the machine sits about 3m/10ft off the floor, and the identical divertor vessels on each end measure about 3.4m/11ft in diameter. Norman consumes up to 750 megawatts of peak power, comparable to a large utility-scale power plant. 

What scientific evidence does TAE Technologies have that its approach is sound?

For the past 20 years, we have demonstrated compelling evidence that our fusion solution is viable, from fuel cycle to full-scale power management. Our scientific accomplishments routinely appear in peer-reviewed journals, and our research is audited twice a year by an independent science panel that includes Nobel laureates and Maxwell Prize winners (the highest honor in plasma physics). In 2015, our previous experimental regime, C-2U, proved that we could confine and hold plasma indefinitely. Our current platform, C-2W, a.k.a. Norman, is designed to prove it can achieve the necessary temperature requirements. As always, select scientific results will be documented through articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Who are your investors, advisors, and partners?

The company has raised over $750M in private funding from some of the world’s most sophisticated investors, including Google, NEA, Venrock, and Wellcome Trust, and the visionary family offices of Addison Fischer, Art Samberg, and Charles Schwab, among others. All of TAE’s funding has been dependent on articulating and achieving specific scientific goals. This “money by milestone” approach has kept us on time and on or under budget for 20 years. Our advisors are some of the most experienced and celebrated names in science and industry. Our independent Science Panel includes multiple Nobel and Maxwell Prize winners; our Board of Directors includes Jeffrey Immelt, former CEO, GE; John Mack, former CEO, Morgan Stanley; Richard Meserve, President Emeritus, Carnegie Institution for Science and Former Chairman of U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission; Ernest Moniz, former U.S. Secretary of Energy; and others. In addition, TAE Technologies enjoys broad support and assistance through a wide spectrum of collaborators comprised of National Laboratories, leading universities, and global industrial players.

How does TAE Technologies collaborate with Google?

TAE Technologies has been in partnership with Google since 2014 to apply machine learning, data science, and advanced computations to our research in order to accelerate progress toward commercial fusion power. Together, we developed the Optometrist Algorithm, which yields improved outcomes when human and machine learning resources work together. Through this collaboration and other efforts, required programmatic steps that used to take well over a month can be achieved virtually overnight. In addition, we have developed breakthrough capabilities in holistically post-processing and integrating a large set of independent diagnostic measurements to produce high fidelity insights into experimental data at record-breaking scale.

When will TAE Technologies have a working commercial fusion power plant?

Migrating to a predominantly carbon-free energy supply is a top priority, and TAE Technologies was founded with the mission to bring our solution to market as quickly as possible. With our unique approach, track record, and proven original science, we are convinced fusion-based electricity will become a reality and believe we have a viable pathway to reactor level performance. Our next experimental platform called Copernicus is currently in development. It is a reactor-scale device designed to operate at about 100 million degrees Celsius and prove the viability of net energy production from the D-T fuel cycle. We will then construct a final prototype to demonstrate net energy gain out of the p-B11 fuel cycle, with commercialization of p-B11 fusion power plants beginning by the late 2020s.

Are there additional applications for TAE's proprietary particle accelerator beam technology?

TAE Technologies has invested roughly $100 million in patented particle accelerator technology as a cornerstone of our unique fusion configuration. These highly flexible and tunable particle beams can also be leveraged for similar innovations in other sectors. TAE Technologies created its first subsidiary, TAE Life Sciences, to adapt our accelerator-based technology for a biologically targeted cancer treatment for complex and often inoperable cancers.

What is TAE Life Sciences?

TAE Life Sciences was spun out by TAE Technologies in 2017 to develop and commercialize a biologically targeted radiation treatment based on Boron Neutron Capture Therapy (BNCT) for complex and often inoperable cancers. Leveraging 20 years of accelerator R&D performed by TAE Technologies for its pioneering work in fusion, TAE Life Sciences is developing a game-changing Alphabeam neutron system optimized for installation in a hospital setting. Visit TAE Life Sciences Website

Are there additional applications for TAE's proprietary power management technology?

TAE Technologies has developed a transformational power management solution for its current fusion machine, C-2W a.k.a. Norman, which delivers up to 750 megawatts of electricity with highly flexible, efficient and accurate bi-directional, sub-millisecond scale control. We have performed considerable due diligence and have not seen any similar competing technology base in the market today. TAE Technologies is now developing partnerships to leverage this breakthrough innovation for various opportunities in the electric mobility market and other forthcoming applications.

What is fusion energy?

Fusion is nature’s preferred source of energy. It’s the same process that powers the sun and stars, and it’s what makes life viable on Earth. It can be explained by Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, better known as E=mc2. Energy equals mass multiplied by the speed of light, squared. Fusing two light elements together produces a new element (or elements) whose aggregate mass is slightly less than the combined mass of the original two elements.This rather tiny difference in mass, multiplied by the incredibly large number of the speed of light (nearly 300 million meters per second), squared, drives a tremendous release of energy.

How do you produce electricity from fusion?

Our sun presently fuses predominately hydrogen atoms to give off energetic light. We are trying to recreate this same process, adapted for terrestrial conditions. In TAE’s future fusion power plant, we will fuse hydrogen and boron to produce an even more energetic light than the sun. Just as you feel warmth when sunlight hits your skin, in a power plant, the containment vessel wall will heat up from energetic light emanating from the plasma. The wall will be cooled through a network of pipes, which have working fluid streaming through them to pick up the heat and transport it to a steam generator. The steam spins a turbine that then drives an electric generator, similar to what happens in operating power plants today. TAE's unique fusion core supplies a superior and environmentally benign heat source for future power plants.

Why hasn’t terrestrial fusion been achieved yet? What is the central challenge?

Harnessing power from terrestrial fusion depends on two conditions: maintaining plasma at sufficiently high temperatures for a long enough amount of time to sustain the fusion reaction. TAE calls this the Hot Enough Long Enough (HE/LE) requirement. For reactor performance levels, Hot Enough means reaching at least 100 million degrees Celsius, a temperature that is readily achievable today. However, sustaining that hot environment is extremely challenging because plasma is a delicate substance that must be protected from conditions that would otherwise decay it or cool it down.Terrestrially achievable plasma contains very few particles, especially compared to the particle density in the areas surrounding the plasma, such as the metallic walls of Norman’s containment vessel or even the air we breathe. Consequently, those areas can store much greater amounts of heat than what is contained in the plasma.These factors are responsible for the rapid loss of energy out of the plasma and into the environment. Fusion’s goal is to minimize this loss so plasma can be maintained with less energy than the fusion reaction generates. By doing so, net energy can then be released to the electric grid. Over the past 50 years, the different fusion efforts around the world have worked to overcome this fundamental challenge in different ways.

What is plasma?

You are probably familiar with the different states of matter: solids, liquids, and gases. Plasma is considered the fourth state of matter. If you heat up an ice cube, it will transform from a solid (ice) to liquid (water) to gas (steam). If you superheat the gas further, negatively charged electrons will break free from the core of the formerly electrically neutral parent atoms, rendering them positively charged, something we call ions. This combination of highly energized positively charged ions and the negatively charged electrons forms a soup called plasma – imagine lightning.

Can you explain the components of fusion and TAE Technologies’ unique approach to someone with a limited background in science?

Achieving fusion is essentially the task of creating and containing lightning in a laboratory. Plasma is an oozy substance; the challenge of containing it is akin to holding Jell-O together using rubber bands. You may attempt this by using an increasing number of rubber bands in order to create a suitable physical barrier. Or, you may seek ways to alter the texture of plasma to make it more cohesive, similar to adding more gelatin to runny Jell-O. TAE Technologies’ unique approach to fusion combines science from the two distinct fields of accelerator physics and plasma physics to tame plasma and solve the challenge of confinement. We use particle accelerators to inject beams of high energy particles into the plasma, which act as a “thickening”agent that makes it more manageable. As a result, this means fewer energy losses and more energy to release to the grid.

How does nuclear fusion differ from nuclear fission? Can a fusion plant experience a meltdown?

The fusion process is the exact opposite of fission. Although both occur at the nuclear level and release energy as a byproduct, fusion achieves this by combining light elements such as hydrogen, deuterium, and boron, while fission splits up heavy atoms such as uranium and plutonium. In addition, fusion doesn’t produce long-lived radioactive waste; the radioactive waste stream from fission can last for 10,000 years or more. Finally, fission is propagated by a chain reaction. Once the reaction starts, it’s hard to stop. In contrast, fusion is a driven process, meaning all steps are deliberately initiated and actively maintained. Once the external drivers stop, the fusion process stops–faster than any kill switch or emergency power-off system could shut down a plant. Fusion possesses nature’s ultimate safety valve: there is simply no way for a meltdown to occur. In this way, fusion is an inherently safe proposition.

What is the difference between hot fusion and cold fusion?

The fundamental difference is in the parameter space of the fuel. In cold fusion, research is being pursued at room temperature, within tabletop experiments. The fuel used in cold fusion is approximately the density of liquids or solids. In contrast, hot fusion occurs in large, sophisticated machinery capable of achieving temperatures in the millions or billions degrees Celsius, and produces very low-density plasmas (100,000x less dense than air at sea level). Almost all of the world’s fusion research is focused on hot fusion.

What is a fuel cycle and how does it affect fusion?

There are several known fuel cycles for terrestrial fusion, i.e. different elements that can be fused to produce fusion reactions and, ultimately, electricity. The most common fuel cycle is deuterium-tritium or D-T because of its comparatively low temperature threshold for achieving the Hot Enough requirement for fusion (100 million degrees Celsius). Other fuel cycles include deuterium-helium-3 or D-He-3 (many hundreds of millions degrees Celsius) and hydrogen-boron or p-B11 (in the billion-degree Celsius range).

What are the key benefits and challenges of the main terrestrially achievable fuel cycles?

D-T
Benefits:
 The lowest temperature for a fusion reaction to occur; fastest reacting fuel cycle, with very large energy output per reaction.
Challenges: Tritium is a radioactive element – it does not occur in nature and must be bred; its associated neutrons will accelerate aging in power plant materials.

D-He-3
Benefits:
Substantially less radioactivity and production of tritium than with D-T fusion, leading to longer power plant life; most energy output per reaction, largely in the form of energetic protons, which makes direct energy conversion possible.
Challenges: Residual radioactivity; reacts slower than the D-T fuel cycle; no terrestrial He-3 resources – must be mined on the lunar surface.

p-B11
Benefits:
Aneutronic a.k.a. non-radioactive; cleanest, safest, highly abundant, and environmentally friendly fusion pathway; enables scalable, cost-competitive electricity.
Challenges: Requires superior confinement and operational conditions to reach the considerably higher temperatures needed; reacts more slowly than other fuel cycles; less energy output per reaction.

It's often repeated that “fusion is always 15 (or 30 or 50) years away.” Is that true?

No. There is a new confluence of factors that makes the entire pursuit of fusion different than it was even 10 years ago. In the early years, we didn’t understand the true magnitude of the challenge, and more importantly, we didn’t have the proper tools to address it. Exponential progress in the science behind fusion, coupled with the emergence of critical support technologies, has now created the proper tool chest to bring us to the cusp of fusion. These tools include expanded scientific knowledge about plasma behavior, artificial intelligence, machine learning, faster electronics, magnets, improved diagnostics, shorter latency feedback loops, materials science, vacuum technology, power electronics – the list goes on. Whether discovered by TAE Technologies, our fusion colleagues, or a serendipitous development in an unrelated field, these advances are now cumulatively and critically enabling. With well over $1B invested in nearly 20 private fusion companies, as well as massive international efforts underway, there is no doubt that commercial power generation based on fusion is fast approaching. TAE expects this timeframe to be about a decade.

Why has there been a recent proliferation of private fusion companies?

With more awareness about the need for an environmentally benign, high power density, energy solution, and thought leaders such as Stephen Hawking strongly advocating for fusion as a permanent clean energy solution for the planet, it makes sense that more companies are joining the field. In recent years, new technologies have come into existence that provide foundational capabilities to accelerate development and fundamentally enable fusion power. Advances in machine learning, artificial intelligence, computer-controlled power management and superconducting materials – to name just a few – all make the achievement of fusion inevitable. That potential leads to more investor interest and financing, which, by extension, leads to the awakening you’re seeing now.

What is the advantage of private investment in fusion?

The existence of parallel programs, both public and private, enables holistic exploration of the fusion opportunity, and all efforts approach their research in different ways. For TAE,  private funding provides a singular forcing function that ensures efficient use of capital, disciplined project management, and focus on the mission-critical elements and goals. TAE Technologies was founded with the express purpose of developing and licensing commercially viable fusion energy technologies, and has charted its course to this outcome ever since. For the past 20 years, the company has operated on a “money by milestone” model, where each round of funding is only earned based on delivering on milestones that were promised to investors. Further, TAE Technologies is a flat organization with a lean overhead structure, all of which drives efficiency. It is reassuring for humanity that there are both governmental and private efforts working toward making power generation from fusion a reality.

What impact does energy have on the environment?

Clean energy is at the nexus of natural resources such as clean air and water, as well as health and overall quality of life around the world. In order to ensure the future of our planet and a thriving ecosystem, we must adopt a safe, cost-effective, non-polluting, scalable, carbon-free energy solution.

Why pursue fusion when wind, solar and other renewable energy sources are available now?

We believe continued adoption of renewable energy sources is objectively beneficial. However, there is no one-size-fits-all power source to fulfill the entire growing global need. We expect a future clean energy portfolio to come from a healthy mix of carbon-free power, including wind, solar, fusion, and more.

Is fusion competitive with other renewable energy sources like wind and solar?

We consider fusion to be an essential component of baseload power, in addition to being an integral part of a robust, economically attractive overall energy portfolio that includes solar, wind, and other renewables.

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