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Revolutionizing Energy Generation – The Promise of Fusion Technology

Robin LangtryFebruary 15, 2024

Fusion energy has long been hailed as the holy grail of sustainable and clean energy solutions. With the potential to revolutionize the world's energy landscape, fusion energy holds the promise of virtually limitless, environmentally friendly power generation.

The key question is whether we can do it on a timescale that matters. Robin and his team at Avalanche are taking an unconventional approach to fusion with small reactors, with fusion cores the size of a home microwave oven.

Robin Langtry is the Co-founder and CEO of Avalanche Energy, a company producing the world’s first fusion microreactor. He was recently on the Hardware to Save a Planet podcast hosted by Dylan Garrett and brought to you by Synapse. We explored the exciting developments in fusion energy research and development, its potential benefits, and the challenges that lie ahead.

What is Fusion Energy?

Fusion energy is a process that occurs when two light atomic nuclei, typically isotopes of hydrogen, combine to form a heavier nucleus, releasing an enormous amount of energy in the process. This is the same process that powers the sun and other stars, making it a truly abundant and ubiquitous source of energy. It is nearly impossible to overstate the potential.

The Driving Forces Behind Fusion Energy

We need more energy. We need it cleaner, we need it cheaper, we need it mobile, and we need to get it in time to The growing concern over climate change and the finite nature of fossil fuels has led to a renewed interest in fusion energy. Unlike current energy sources, which rely on the combustion of fossil fuels or the fission of heavy atomic nuclei, fusion energy produces negligible greenhouse gas emissions and does not generate dangerous radioactive waste. Moreover, fusion fuel resources, such as deuterium and lithium, are virtually inexhaustible, offering a long-term and sustainable energy solution.

The Progress in Fusion Energy Research

Over the past few decades, significant progress has been made in fusion energy research. One of the most notable achievements is the construction of experimental fusion reactors, such as the Joint European Torus (JET) and the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER).

These reactors aim to demonstrate the feasibility and viability of fusion energy by producing more energy than they consume, a milestone known as "ignition." Additionally, advancements in plasma physics and materials science have enabled researchers to better understand and control the complex phenomena within a fusion reactor. The development of advanced superconducting magnets, capable of confining the fusion plasma at ultra-high temperatures, has also been a crucial breakthrough.

Scaling Down for Commercial Adoption

Avalanche Energy is working at the cutting edge of fusion energy by scaling down the size of fusion reactors to accelerate commercial adoption. This runs counter to the strategy followed by most players in the industry. The logic here is simple: if we can scale down the size of fusion reactors, the cost and time required for iterating and maturing the technology reduces, resulting in a shorter path to commercial readiness. The microreactors can be combined to create systems scaled appropriately to different applications, making power generation and supply distributed and independent.

The Promise of Fusion Energy

If fusion energy can be harnessed successfully, it would revolutionize the world's energy landscape. Some of the potential benefits include abundant and limitless clean energy, energy security and economic benefits.

Here are some key talking points from the episode:

Using Fusion to Decarbonize Hard-to-Abate Industries

Currently, most sustainability efforts are addressing the low-hanging fruit of clean energy. From solar to wind and electric cars, we’re doing the easy stuff. Sooner rather than later, we are going to get to the point where there are no more low-hanging fruits, and we're going to have to decarbonize hard industries that require a lot of energy. Industries like maritime shipping, long-haul trucking, and aviation will need to be decarbonized. Currently, we don’t have any scalable solutions to decarbonize the energy they use. This is where fusion comes in.

Scaling Fusion Reactors to Grid Scale

Robin mentions that currently, the area they are focusing on is in the kilowatts to a few 100-kilowatt ranges per fusion cell. These cells will be produced at scale and then, like Tesla batteries, these cells can be combined at scale to produce a battery that can deliver power in tens of megawatts. The other advantage is that the power supply can then be distributed globally by setting up independent generation bases. If a region requires a power supply of one megawatt, you can make a battery with 200 5-kW cells and make that region autonomous when it comes to power. Over time, the concept of grids and wires will become obsolete.

A Few Words About Robin Langtry

Robin has a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering with 15+ years of experience executing complex research and design projects at Boeing and Blue Origin. Avalanche is a VC-backed fusion energy start-up based in Seattle, WA. Robin is designing, testing, and building fusion devices small enough to hold in your hands with anticipated power output from 1 to 100’s of kilowatts. Carbon-free microgrids, long-haul trucking, maritime shipping, and aviation are just some of the applications of microreactors.

To learn more about how a company is using fusion to generate unlimited, cheap, and clean energy to power the future, tune in to the latest episode of Hardware to Save a Planet, brought to you by Synapse.

Fusion Microreactor Space Application

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