Robin lantry and Brian Riordan, founders of avalanche energy, have been working hard to develop their fusion technology, and they have been looking forward to hitting a wall.
The team is taking a less traditional approach to fusion energy, building a small-scale solution and overcoming the abnormal temperatures and super magnets required by other systems. The simpler and seemingly elegant approach makes them wonder whether it is possible that no one else has developed or patented the design, or has done research to show that it will not work.
So far, the wall has not been realized. But positive developments have emerged. The startup has raised a round of $5 million seed money, won an international patent under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), and recently got rid of the invisible model. A few weeks ago, Langtree and riodan produced the first neutrons by fusion.
Avalanche energy, launched in 2018, opened research facilities on the streets near the Seattle flight Museum and Boeing’s original site this summer. The company has grown rapidly to 10 employees and is expected to double by the end of the year.
The company is part of a growing fusion enterprise community in the Pacific Northwest, including Helion, zap energy and ctfusion in Washington state and general fusion in British Columbia.
Other ventures are large-scale energy production for utilities and other users, creating multiple niche markets in this field.
“There is not much competition,” said Langtry, the company’s chief executive. “This is really cooperation.”
Avalanche energy is developing a system that measures the size of a large shoebox (one foot in diameter and two feet long). It can be deployed as multiple units to power cargo ships, aircraft and other economic sectors that are difficult to get rid of fossil fuels. For example, they estimate that six devices are needed to drive a passenger car.
Lubos brieda, President of particle in cell consulting, provided a third-party assessment for the start-up’s proof of concept. The Los Angeles area engineer is optimistic about small-scale nuclear fusion methods.
“The future,” he said, “is in these small reactors.”
Nuclear fusion, a carbon free and unlimited energy source safer than atomic fission, has been the Holy Grail of energy for decades. The ultimate fusion reactor is the sun. Amateurs, even a middle school student, can produce fusion reactions. But the challenge is to produce continuous fusion in a system that generates more energy than is needed for operation and effectively captures the released energy.
In the past, fusion innovation was mainly driven by government funded projects that focused on large-scale efforts, such as France’s $25 billion International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) or the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.
But that is changing. Now, as the world scrambles to create and deploy new clean and climate technologies to prevent the most terrible effects of global warming, venture capital funds are supporting smaller private efforts. Last year, Apollo launched a $500 million ship, and California based Tae technology reported an investment of $410 million.
The first round of avalanche energy’s $5 million investment was led by Prime Impact Fund (now Azolla ventures), including Congress ventures, Chris sacca’s lowercarbon capital and nearly 12 small investors.
Langtry and Riordan praised the space department for providing a model for integration. This area was once dominated by federal research institutes, but now private companies such as blue origin, SpaceX and rocket lab are making headlines that used to come only from NASA.
Venture capital funds can also start fusion.
Riordan, chief operating officer, said: “I think our time is right for those who say ‘I think we can do something very crazy and difficult in the private sector faster without bureaucratic red tape’ and are willing to invest in it.”.
Back to earth
Langtry and Riordan met at blue origin, Jeff Bezos’s space company in Kent, Washington., Both work in the rocket propulsion system.
The avalanche energy team aims to develop a small fusion device that can be used to power vehicles, including cargo ships and aircraft. This is an artist’s description of the potential relative scale of their technology. (avalanche energy diagram)
They appreciate a culture that encourages employees to take risks and learn from their mistakes. But recently, the impact of climate change on survival has become more and more obvious, which has brought their enthusiasm back to land.
“If the earth is on fire, there is no point in setting up a space company,” Langley said
Langley has always regarded the exploration of nuclear fusion more as a hobby, focusing on using reactors to power space flight (taking the Millennium Falcon of Star Wars as a source of inspiration). As they refocus on earth applications, they set some parameters for their fusion solution: no huge lasers, no huge magnets.
While studying this field, Langley came across the graduate thesis of a Lockheed Martin researcher named Tom McGuire. It includes open source code for electrostatic fusion reactor simulation. The idea became the seed of avalanche energy’s technology.
Nuclear fusion strategy
The start-up company is making its fusion generator prototype with a mixture of off the shelf and customized components.
They used an improved Knight trap, an orbital ion trap, as the core and static power supply of the reactor for long-term high-energy ion confinement. They invented an ion gun that emits deuterium ions, a form of heavy hydrogen, into ion traps. The energy can be generated and released in the high-pressure plasma generator, and the energy can be generated and fused in the reactor.
The team has generated energy in the form of high-speed neutrons and will add magnets to the system to create a reactor with higher density and more energy. They also need to establish ways to convert the heat generated into electricity.
“There are all these small technical challenges,” said external expert breeda. “Before you build and show something, it’s still a research project.”
The founder said that the most daunting technical obstacle would be to generate a high enough voltage (about 600000 volts) in a small space to make the whole system work (compared with about 13 volts for car batteries).
“From the overall perspective, we have learned and made progress on things that seem insurmountable,” Riordan said. “But on the way forward, there are some small steps (these) that are empowering and exciting. They are moving towards our ultimate goal.”