More money for fusion energy

Canada's General Fusion, which wants to turn lithium into helium, nabs $1.2 million in venture funding.

Canada's General Fusion has received $1.2 million in venture funding to conduct further research on its fusion reactors, according to VentureWire.

The company's ultimate plan is to build small fusion reactors that can produce around 100 megawatts of power. The plants would cost around $50 million. That could allow the company to generate electricity at about 4 cents per kilowatt hour, relatively low. (By contrast, roughly $250 million was spent on a 64-megawatt solar thermal plant in Las Vegas recently.)

General Fusion has adopted the Magnetized Target Fusion (MTF) model. In this scenario, an electric current is generated in a conductive cavity containing lithium and a plasma. The electric current produces a magnetic field and the cavity is collapsed, which results in a massive temperature spike.

The lithium breaks down into helium and tritium. Tritium, an unstable form of hydrogen, is separated and then mixed with deuterium, another form of hydrogen. The two fuse and make helium, a reaction that releases energy that can be harvested. So in short, lithium, a fairly inexpensive and plentiful metal, gets converted to helium in a reaction that generates lots of power and leaves only a harmless gas as a byproduct.

In theory. Conducting those reactions isn't easy. MTF has an advantage over other fusion techniques in that the plasma only has to stay at thermonuclear temperatures (150 million degrees Celsius) for a microsecond for a reaction to occur, according to the General Fusion's Web site.

But research is still ongoing. Los Alamos National Labs is currently conducting research.

Millions have been invested in fusion and nuclear projects over the last decade. Recently, Tri-Alpha Energy , out of the University of California Irvine, landed $40 million in VC funds.

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About the author

    Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.

     

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