Helion Energy wins energy generation category at Cleantech Open

By Clare LaFond

Helion Energy, developer of a revolutionary fusion technology aimed at addressing the world’s growing clean energy demands, was one of five national finalists in the CleanTech Open held Nov. 20-21 in San Jose, Calif. Formed by scientists and engineers, many coming from the UW, Helion won in the Energy Generation category and was one of only two Pacific Northwest small businesses to advance to the Cleantech Open national finals. Helion went on to win the national Energy Generation Award as well as a People’s Choice Award.

Helion’s new approach generates fusion by accelerating two specialized plasmas into a central chamber, where they are further compressed with a magnetic field, raising temperature and density to the levels required for fusion and energy release. Through a series of Department of Energy programs, the team has demonstrated fusion in a reactor configuration.

John Slough, UW associate professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics, is the chief scientist of Helion and the inventor of the breakthrough technology.

“Helion Energy is dedicated to making practical and affordable fusion energy a reality,” explained Dr. David Kirtley, Helion’s CEO and chief engineer. “Through commercialization of a proven revolutionary fusion technology, we intend to address growing clean energy demands in a way that is good for the environment and consumers alike.”

Kirtley said Helion Energy’s fusion technology should be commercially deployable within six years. Their 50 megawatt modular power plant design is compact and competitive in today’s market, Kirtley said. The Helion Energy machine runs on a fuel found in everyday water, deuterium — a molecular variant of hydrogen. Unlike nuclear fission, scientists believe fusion reactions will use very small amounts of fuel and leave behind no toxic waste. Helion’s technology has received $5 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Often referred to as the “Academy Awards of Cleantech,” the Cleantech Open Global Forum is the grand finale of this year’s Cleantech Open Accelerator and the culmination of the 2013 Cleantech Open Global Ideas Competition – where startups present their new technologies and compete for a grand prize of $200,000 in financing and professional services.

The Global Forum’s two-day expo and gala celebrates the top cleantech innovations from the U.S. and around the world. This year’s event — the world’s largest accelerator for cleantech startups — showcased 150 of the biggest game-changing technologies in a number of fields, including energy, chemical and advanced materials, information and communications, and transportation.

“Helion Energy and C4C are working together to commercialize fusion energy,” Kirtley said. “By leveraging the University of Washington’s vast expertise in fusion plasma physics and materials science, this team can bring clean, safe, power to the global market, just when it is needed most.”