Microsoft agrees to buy electricity from Sam Altman-backed nuclear fusion startup Helion in 5 years
Microsoft announced on Wednesday it has signed a power purchase deal with nuclear fusion startup Helion Energy to buy electricity from the company in about five years, making it the first time a fusion company inked a deal to sell electricity. The deal is also a vote of confidence for fusion energy, which harnesses power the way the sun makes energy.
For more than half a century, researchers and governments around the world in a race to zero emissions have been trying to solve the challenge of nuclear fusion, a nuclear process, where energy is produced by smashing together light atoms. Theoretically, nuclear fusion could provide a cheap, clean, and almost boundless source of energy. For example, one tablespoon of liquid hydrogen fuel—a mix of deuterium and tritium—would produce the same energy as 28 tons of coal.
Unlike the nuclear reactor, which uses nuclear fission, harnessing the power of an artificial star on planet Earth to generate electricity has great advantages over our current sources of energy that produce no carbon, sulfur, or nitrogen emissions.
Sam Altman-backed Helion is one of a few nuclear fusion startups building the world’s first fusion power plant to enable a future with unlimited clean electricity. We covered the startup back in 2021 when it raised $500 million to use fusion energy to deliver clean, zero-carbon electricity.
Sam Altman, a prominent figure in Silicon Valley, has made his largest personal investment yet of $375 million into Helion. Altman is also known for investing in the artificial intelligence company OpenAI, which has received funding from Microsoft.
In a statement, Helion’s founder and CEO David Kirtley said: “Fifty 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.”
Helion Energy is a Redmond, Washington-based startup founded by four scientists working at MSNW, a research firm founded in 1990 with a pedigree that spun off from the University of Washington. The company focuses on determining the feasibility of turning plasma physics research into commercializable hardware with aerospace and power-generation applications. The organization is backed and funded by NASA, the US Department Of Energy, and the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research. The company’s research aimed to explore plasma-based propulsion systems and energy generation.
Helion was later formed in 2013 by CEO David Kirtley, University of Washington professor John Slough, Chris Pihl, and George Votroubek with the mission of utilizing fusion energy to deliver clean, safe, and zero-carbon electricity. The company aims to build a net-positive electrical generator, one that creates more power than it uses.
According to Kirtley, Helion fusion technology works similarly to how a star produces energy by fusing hydrogen and helium under a large amount of pressure. In a very simple term, Helion plans to take two atoms from what’s called “heavy water,” and smash them together at temperatures ten times hotter than the sun to make energy that will power our world — with no waste, no radiation, no carbon.
“We’re seeing the birth of a new clean energy industry right here in Washington,” Inslee said. “This promise that is Helion could be, when they make this work, world-shaking.” Below is how Helion Energy Fusion Engine works.