Dr. David Kirtley at the new Helion headquarters in Everett, Washington on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022 (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Dr. David Kirtley at the new Helion headquarters in Everett, Washington on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022 (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Everett nuclear fusion energy company nets first customer: Microsoft

The Everett company, on a quest to produce carbon-free electricity, agreed to provide power to the software giant by 2028.

EVERETT — Helion Energy signed its first customer this week.

The Everett-based company agreed to provide the software giant Microsoft with at least 50 megawatts of electricity from its planned first fusion power plant, starting in 2028.

Fifty megawatts is enough electricity to power a data center or factory, said David Kirtley, Helion’s CEO.

Founded in 2013, Helion has launched a multi-billion-dollar effort to produce electricity from fusion, the nuclear reaction that powers the sun and stars.

Fusion has long been viewed as a potential zero-carbon source of energy that could serve as a tool in the fight against climate change.

Unlike nuclear fission, which obtains its energy from splitting atoms, fusion does not produce significant amounts of radioactive waste.

Electricity production is the second-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Greenhouse gases trap heat and make the planet warmer, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

“This collaboration represents a significant milestone for Helion and the fusion industry as a whole,” Kirtley said. “We are grateful for the support of a visionary company like Microsoft. We still have a lot of work to do, but we are confident in our ability to deliver the world’s first fusion power facility.”

Microsoft’s goal is to be carbon negative by 2030.

In a statement, Microsoft’s vice chair and president Brad Smith said, “We are optimistic that fusion energy can be an important technology to help the world transition to clean energy. “Helion’s announcement supports our own long term clean energy goals and will advance the market to establish a new, efficient method for bringing more clean energy to the grid, faster.”

Baltimore-based Constellation Energy Group, which provides electric power, natural gas, and energy management services, will serve as the power marketer and manage the transmission of electricity from Helion to the grid, Kirtley said.

Last year, Helion published results claiming it was the first private company to reach 100-million-degree plasma temperatures with its sixth fusion prototype.

Reaching that temperature is a critical engineering milestone. It is considered the ideal fuel temperature at which a commercial power plant would need to operate, Kirtley has said.

The sun and the stars shine because they are fusing hydrogen into helium. Each second, the sun converts 600 million tons of hydrogen into 596 million tons of helium. The remaining four tons is converted into energy.

Fusion in the sun’s core occurs at temperatures of around 15 million degrees Celsius. On earth, which doesn’t have the sun’s mass or gravitational forces, temperatures of more than 100 million degrees Celsius are necessary to achieve fusion.

Helion relocated last year from Redmond to a 150,000-square-foot warehouse near Paine Field that serves as corporate headquarters, research facility and manufacturing center. The company employs about 150 people.

In a concrete building next door, the company is building its seventh fusion prototype, known as Polaris.

Polaris is expected to be online next year, while a yet unnamed commercial successor will target power generation of 50-megawatts or greater by 2028 after a one-year ramp up period, the company said.

Last fall, a group of Silicon Valley investors, including Sam Altman, Helion’s chairman of the board, provided a $500 million capital infusion to fund Polaris.

Another $1.7 billion is available should Helion reach key milestones. Kirtley said Monday the company is on track to achieve those milestones.

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

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