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    Electricity from nuclear fusion by 2028: Microsoft believes in it but experts see star power

    May 17, 2023 - Change, Inc


      Copyright ChangeInc

      Microsoft is going to buy power to be generated by nuclear fusion starting in 2028. The computer giant has agreed to purchase 50 megawatts of electricity from Helion Energy, an American company working on a large-scale nuclear fusion power plant. The plant must be completed in five years; considerably sooner than most forecasts suggest is possible. And that deadline must be met, Microsoft believes.

      Microsoft's goal is to be completely CO2 neutral by 2030. To achieve that goal, it is now betting on the clean and relatively harmless generation of energy from nuclear fusion. With the commitment of 50 megawatts of power, Microsoft becomes Helion Energy's first customer.

      Helion Energy has been exploring ways to use nuclear fusion to generate power on a large scale since 2013. The company, after about six successful prototypes, is currently working on one last pilot nuclear fusion power plant. This is expected to be finished in a year and Helion can get down to the real work.

      How does nuclear fusion work?

      The technique of nuclear fusion has been copied from our galaxy. Stars generate energy with their own heat. The extreme heat causes hydrogen atoms to fuse together to form helium. This process releases a large amount of energy. In turn, stars use that energy to burn brightly.

      Scientists have discovered that we can mimic the fusing of atomic nuclei on Earth. This is done by heating many (hydrogen) atoms in a relatively small space, causing them to collide with each other at a high speed. This creates a lot of energy, but with negligible CO2 emissions.

      Nuclear fusion differs from the technique used in nuclear power plants. There, atomic nuclei are actually split from each other. This is essentially a riskier process and creates dangerous radioactive waste. With nuclear fusion, this is not the case.

      A bold move

      According to the most optimistic experts, there will not be working nuclear fusion power plants until the turn of the decade. Less hopeful projections even speak of several decades. That Helion Energy wants to have built a working nuclear fusion power plant capable of producing 50 megawatts of power by 2028 is ambitious to say the least. Especially since only by the end of last year scientists . Still, Helion Energy is confident the deadline is achievable.

      Strict deal

      And that's just as well. After all, Microsoft's commitment comes with hard agreements. If Helion Energy fails to deliver the agreed-upon amount of power by 2028, the company will suffer financial consequences. "It's a binding agreement where we have to pay penalties if we don't get the nuclear fusion plant finished," CEO David Kirtley told . "We committed to be able to build a system and sell it to Microsoft." Exactly how high the fines are Helion Energy and Microsoft did not disclose.


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