Microsoft has entered into a groundbreaking deal with nuclear fusion company Helion Energy. The private US company will supply Microsoft with electricity within five years, making it the first deal of its kind for the power source that fuels the sun but has been elusive on Earth. The fusion industry is seen as one solution to slashing emissions linked to climate change. Unlike fission reactors, fusion could generate power without producing long-lasting radioactive waste.
Helion’s seventh generation machine, Polaris, is due to come online next year, and the company aims to generate at least 50 megawatts of power. Helion plans to use Helium 3, a rare type of gas used in quantum computing, instead of tritium, a rare hydrogen isotope, to fuel its reactions.
“50 megawatts is a big first step of commercial-scale fusion, and the revenue feeds right back into us developing more power plants and getting fusion out on the grid both in the United States and internationally as fast as possible,” said David Kirtley, the founder and chief executive of Washington-based Helion.
The company has raised over $570 million in private capital, with OpenAI CEO Sam Altman providing $375 million in 2021.
Brad Smith, vice chair and president at Microsoft, said the agreement with Helion Energy “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”.
Although Helion still needs approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and local permits before construction can begin, the fusion industry was encouraged by the NRC’s recent decision to separate fusion regulation from that of fission. This move is expected to reduce time lines of license approvals.
Andrew Holland, head of the Fusion Industry Association, said the deal showed trust is building in the industry. “The business world is starting to understand that fusion is coming and perhaps sooner than a lot of people thought,” he said. “It’s a vote of confidence that Helion is on its way as are other companies building their proof of concept machines now.”