Microsoft signs power purchase agreement with nuclear fusion company Helion

WASHINGTON, May 10 (Reuters) – Private U.S. nuclear fusion firm Helion Energy will supply Microsoft ( MSFT.O ) with electricity in about five years, the companies said on Wednesday, in the first such deal for the power source that burns the sun but has been elusive On earth.

Public laboratories and more than 30 companies are racing to generate power from fusion, which could one day help the world cut emissions linked to climate change. Unlike today’s fission reactors, it could generate power without producing long-lasting radioactive waste.

Fusion occurs when two light atoms such as hydrogen, heated to extreme temperatures, fuse into one heavier atom, releasing large amounts of energy. So far, terrestrial fusion reactions have been instantaneous and soak up more energy than they release, but companies have raised about $5 billion in private funding in pursuit of net energy gains.

Helion’s facility is expected to be online by 2028 and will target power generation of 50 megawatts or more after a one-year ramp-up period, it said. One megawatt can supply up to about 1,000 American homes on a typical day.

“Fifty megawatts is a huge first step of commercial-scale fusion, and the proceeds go right back to us developing more power plants and getting fusion online both in the US and internationally as quickly as possible,” David Kirtley, Washington state-based Helion’s founder and CEO, said in an interview.

Polaris, Helion’s seventh-generation machine, should come online next year and demonstrate electricity generation, using pulsed high-power magnet technologies to achieve fusion, Kirtley said. In 2021, Helion was the first private company to reach 100 million degrees Celsius (180 million degrees Fahrenheit), and the optimal temperature for fusion is about twice that, Kirtley said.

While many fusion companies look to tritium, a rare isotope of hydrogen, to help fuel reactions, Helion plans to use Helium 3, a rare type of gas used in quantum computing.

Helion has so far raised more than $570 million in private capital, with OpenAI CEO Sam Altman providing $375 million in 2021.

Brad Smith, vice chairman and president of Microsoft Corp, said in a press release that Helion’s work “supports our own long-term clean energy goals and will advance the market to establish a new, efficient method to bring more clean energy to the grid, faster.”

The companies did not disclose financial or timing details of the power purchase agreement, or which Microsoft facilities would receive fusion-generated electricity.

Kimberly Budil, the head of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which is experimenting with fusion, said last December that a few decades of research and investment could enable scientists to build a power plant.

Helion still needs design and construction approvals from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), as well as local permits. But the merger industry was encouraged by the Norwegian Refugee Council’s decision last month to separate merger regulation from fission regulation, which supporters say could reduce license approval deadlines.

Andrew Holland, head of the Fusion Industry Association, said nothing about fusion had been easy and the power purchase contract was likely to have clauses about the timing of electricity delivery. But he said the deal shows that trust is building.

“Business is starting to understand that merger is coming and perhaps sooner than many thought,” Holland said in an interview. “It’s a vote of confidence that Helion is on the way, as are other companies building their proof-of-concept machines now.”

Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Jacqueline Wong

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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