TAE Technologies’ Norman plasma generator is pushing the envelope in fusion research. (TAE Technologies Photo)
TAE Technologies, the California-based fusion company backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, said its latest and greatest plasma generator has exceeded the headline-grabbing performance of its previous machine.
“This announcement is an important milestone on our quest to deliver world-changing, clean fusion energy to help combat climate change and improve the quality of life for people globally,” Michl Binderbauer, the company’s president and chief technology officer, said in a news release. “This achievement further validates the robustness of TAE’s underlying science and unique pathway.”
The $100 million machine, which went into operation less than a year ago, has been christened “Norman” in honor of physicist Norman Rostoker, the late founder of TAE (formerly known as Tri Alpha Energy). It takes the place of TAE’s C-2U plasma generator, which maintained high-temperature plasma rings in confinement for a record-setting 5 milliseconds back in 2015. Over the course of more than 100,000 experiments, the maximum confinement time eventually went even longer, to 11.5 milliseconds.
TAE said that the C-2U experiment checked off half of what’s called the “Hot Enough, Long Enough” requirement — that is, demonstrating that plasma could be held in confinement long enough to sustain a nuclear fusion reaction. Such a reaction could take advantage of the same process that powers the sun to produce abundant, relatively cheap, relatively clean energy.
Just as the C-2U machine met the “Long Enough” standard, now the Norman machine is making progress on the “Hot Enough” standard for fusion. After 4,000 experiments, TAE said the temperature of Norman’s plasma has reached a high of nearly 20 million degrees Celsius (35.5 million degrees Fahrenheit).
That’s nearly twice as hot as C-2U’s top temperature, and hotter than the temperature of the sun’s core (which is estimated at 15 million degrees C, 27 million degrees F).
The company attributed its rapid progress to its collaboration with Google on machine-learning simulations of plasma physics.
TAE still has a long way to go. It’s aiming for a hydrogen-boron fusion reaction, which is cleaner than the typical deuterium-tritium reaction but more difficult to achieve. That means the target plasma temperature will eventually have to reach on the order of 3 billion degrees C, which will require building a successor to Norman and conducting years of follow-on experiments.
Despite the challenges ahead, TAE Technologies CEO Steven Specker said he was heartened by the …read more