Un-Confusing Fusion

Here’s the simple recipe for creating a fusion reaction: Take some atoms – for TAE Technologies, it’s safe and abundant hydrogen and boron – and heat them to temperatures hot enough that they’ll fuse. When they combine, their final mass is less than the sum of their separate masses before the interaction. This difference in mass is released as pure energy, and forms the basis for Einstein’s famous equation, E=mc2.

It’s the same process that fuels the sun, produces all higher atomic matter and generates much of the energy that permeates the universe and gives us life. But just because fusion is nature’s preferred source of energy doesn’t mean it’s easy to achieve.

To produce a fusion reaction, we must produce a state of matter beyond solid, liquid and gas. That means heating our hydrogen-boron atoms until they are sufficiently hot enough to form a superheated energetic stew called plasma.

The most significant gatekeepers to successful, sustained fusion are keeping the plasma Hot Enough for Long Enough. We call this the HE/LE (HEE-lee) milestone. In other words, the longer you can keep the superheated plasma in a stable state, the closer you are to clean, perpetual energy.

The journey from fusion theory to practice has been nearly a century long. The challenge of replicating this reaction in a contained, safe and scalable system is one of the great scientific undertakings of our time. Or any time.

Boron from A to B

In keeping with TAE Technologies’ company mission, our fuel cycle had to be cheap, non-radioactive and readily found in nature.
Our hydrogen-boron (pB-11) method combines two of the most ubiquitous elements in the universe. Boron is richly deposited around the globe and is commonly used in detergents; hydrogen is found – and therefore usable – in 99.98% of sea water.
The only caveat with hydrogen-boron is that it requires even hotter temperatures to achieve fusion than other fuel cycles. We have no illusions about the complexity of pursuing this path – the physics and engineering are certainly challenging – but we firmly believe it is the cleanest, most economic and sustainable route to fusion energy.

Some Like It Hotter

Since the pB-11 fusion reaction requires enormously high temperatures, we’ve had to profoundly innovate how we confine and contain this superheated plasma.

Our solution comes from an insight brought to us by our guiding spirit Dr. Norman Rostoker, for whom we posthumously named our C-2W machine. He inspired us to transplant accelerator technology into fusion, a brilliantly simple paradigm that we’ve been advancing and refining ever since.

The original insight of using an accelerator to inject high energy particles into the core put the plasma into a better-behaving state, and we are moving from a low temperature plasma to something much hotter.

At scale, some miraculous things happen. Sustainment is easier to achieve thanks to the “scaling law,” which predicts better plasma confinement at higher temperatures.

TAE employs a technology called field-reversed configuration (FRC), a phenomenon that uses closed magnetic fields, rather than a physical barrier, to contain large amounts of plasma and accelerated particles.

As part of our continuing FRC experiments, we have learned how to master plasma instability and turbulence. Imagine a spinning top that becomes unstable if it slows down too much. The faster it spins the more stable it becomes – but only up to a point. By using biasing technology to control the spinning plasma, and high-power particle beams to provide energy and current, TAE has successfully stabilized and sustained an FRC.

In a paper we published in 2015, TAE achieved a breakthrough in the “Long Enough” milestone with Norman’s predecessor, our C-2U machine. Norman was built in eight months and began operations in May, 2017. We subsequently announced our achievement of first plasma on July 10, 2017.

In 2017, TAE jointly published a research paper with Google publicly announcing our longstanding collaboration to apply machine learning to advance plasma physics. This successful relationship has dramatically accelerated our rate of learning and discovery over the past years.

We have now conducted over 3000 experiments on Norman as we work toward unlocking the “Hot Enough” milestone.

Hot Enough + Long Enough = Soon Enough

An endeavor as monumental as this requires an upfront commitment of very substantial proportions, which runs counter to the way most R&D money is parceled out. With TAE operating as a private company, we have been able to research, experiment and iterate more rapidly than our competition.

We’re closer than ever before to the reality of commercial fusion power. We thank our courageous investors for making that possible. We’ve been at this for 18 years, and we’re not stopping until our vision of clean, abundant fusion energy for all is achieved.

That’s Friendly Fusion.