Helion Energy CEO and co-founder David Kirtley at the Helion headquarters in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Helion Energy CEO and co-founder David Kirtley at the Helion headquarters in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Helion Energy: New Everett company has the sun in its eyes

The firm is the winner of a new award by Economic Alliance Snohomish County, called Opportunity Lives Here.

This month’s Herald Business Journal highlights three people and one company whose achievements have helped create a better community or advance economic interests in the region. The four are recipients of Economic Alliance Snohomish County’s annual awards.

EVERETT — Helion Energy was looking for a new home.

It needed larger quarters, a machine shop, office and manufacturing space.

But most of all, in a quest to produce electricity from nuclear fusion, it needed a skilled workforce.

“That’s why we’re here, the people,” David Kirtley, Helion’s CEO and co-founder, said of the company’s recent decision to relocate to Everett.

Today, Helion employs 80 people. In the next 12 months, it expects to double the payroll.

It will need engineers, technicians and workers with the skills to tackle fiber optics, advanced electronics and large-scale machining, Kirtley said. Those talents can be found in Snohomish County.

Helion Energy is the recipient of the Opportunity Lives Here Award, which recognizes an organization that brings innovation and creates opportunities locally and regionally, according to Economic Alliance Snohomish County.

Nuclear fusion has long been viewed as a potential zero-carbon source of energy. But harnessing that energy has proved to be elusive.

Most of the energy in the universe comes from fusion — from stars and our sun.

“The fossil fuels we burn today are from plants that grew from sunlight from fusion energy,” Kirtley said. “We want to be able to harness it here on Earth and do it cost-effectively.”

Earlier this year, the company relocated from Redmond to a 150,000-square-foot warehouse near Paine Field, for a four-fold increase in space.

The massive building has been dubbed Antares, after the red supergiant star.

The facility serves as Helion’s corporate headquarters, research facility and manufacturing center.

Next door, a 30,000-square-foot concrete building is nearing completion. It will house Helion’s newest fusion generator, a seventh-generation prototype, called Polaris.

Helion hopes that Polaris, will generate more energy than it takes in by 2024.

When that target is reached, the company plans a manufacturing facility that can produce 20 fusion generators a day, Kirtley said. To achieve that, “we’ll need to hire well over 1,ooo people,” Kirtley said.

So far, Helion has raised $500 million, bringing total investments to $577 million. Another $1.7 billion is available from investors should Helion reach key milestones.

The Pacific Northwest might be the perfect setting to achieve all this, Kirtley said.

There are not many places in the world that can claim a confluence of talent and advanced industry, Kirtley said.

“We are excited to move our headquarters and the bulk of our operations to Everett because of the area’s innovative culture and commitment to science, technology, engineering and math fields,” said Jessie Barton, who nominated the company for the award. Barton is the company’s communications lead.

Snohomish County has rolled out the welcome mat, Kirtley said.

“We’re honored to have this award because we’ve had such a positive response from Everett and Snohomish County,” Kirtley said.

Helion is working with the Snohomish County Public Utility District and other groups to introduce the technology.

It also has partnered with the Advanced Manufacturing and Training Center at Everett Community College, Barton wrote.

More community engagement is planned, Kirtley said. Helion plans to offer virtual tours and establish internship opportunities.

“A lot of what we want to do is not just hire people that are already trained but work with local universities, local student groups, high schools,” Kirtley said. “Our scientists and engineers have been visiting the schools. That’s been a very exciting interaction.”

A presentation at a local high school generated 184 questions. “It was absolutely astounding,” Kirtley said.

Janice Podsada: 425-339-3097; jpodsada@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @JanicePods.

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