Clean and Renewable Energy without the Big Footprint

Fusion opens the possibility of a safer energy source.

As the world’s population grows and fossil fuels overwhelm our atmosphere with greenhouse gases, the only sustainable type of energy to power the next 100+ years must be renewable. In addition, it must not consume or release any harmful emissions and must be plentiful in nature.

“It's a very tough nut to crack, but we are making real progress,” said Rod Andow, lead design engineer at TAE Technologies, Inc. (formerly known as Tri Alpha Energy). “Solar and wind energy are both renewable solutions, but each requires a fairly large footprint and there are tradeoffs to leveraging these energy sources.”

University of California, Irvine Professor, Norman Rostoker, cofounded TAE with prominent physicists, including Nobel Prize winner Glenn Seaborg. Even though Rostoker passed in late 2014, his principles and ideas still guide the way TAE advances fusion technology today.

TAE Fusion Reactor
TAE's Fusion Reactor may eventually provide clean energy using super-heated plasma. (Image source: TAE)

TAE’s fifth-generation platform is affectionately called Norman in honor of Norman Rostoker. It is 100 feet long and about 15 feet in diameter. Experiments with Norman are currently focused on increasing plasma temperatures in order to validate the company’s unique path to fusion: a proprietary mix of plasma physics and accelerator physics, combined with the cleanest possible fuel, hydrogen-boron. A similar TAE-designed and built fusion facility could safely reside anywhere in a city.

Designing in a Changing Environment
TAE chose SOLIDWORKS 3D CAD software from reseller GoEngineer to perform the preliminary design, design analysis, spatial design specifications, and lines-of-sight throughout the machine. TAE also relies on SOLIDWORKS PDM Professional to manage the data. “We need to make sure that we have a well-designed product, where these 20,000 to 30,000 discrete components will come together seamlessly,” said Andow.

The model and the design are in constant flux because the TAE team is inventing and designing based on requirements that have never been attempted previously. “Sometimes, we have to do experiments to figure out what to do next, what to build next, or what we need to look at next—it’s all about experimenting to get to the next level,” stated Andow. To date, TAE has run over 50,000 experiments to test and advance their unique approach.

Making Fusion Power Happen
Creating fusion energy requires a superheated and contained plasma environment in which particles can fuse, releasing massive amounts of energy. The challenge is sustaining the fusion reaction at sufficiently high energy for a long enough period of time.

At the scale of the machine today, TAE is proving its ability to form the plasma, control it, and maintain its stability. “The strategy involves getting the plasma temperature hot enough to create fusion using hydrogen-boron,” said Andow.  

TAE’s core mission is to create a new source of clean energy—one that's powered by nature's own processes, produces no harmful byproducts, and can serve the growing energy demand around the world. It’s what the company calls Friendly Fusion. The company’s advances in accelerator and plasma physics have spurred additional innovations in healthcare, transportation, and power management. TAE believes fusion has the potential to become the greenest, cleanest, and most affordable energy source for the planet.

Mitch Bossart is an Industry Writer for GoEngineer.

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