US fusion energy tech start-up Helion Energy Helion, a fusion power company, and Nucor Corporation, the largest steel producer and recycler in North America have agreed to develop a 500 MWe fusion power plant at a US Nucor steel manufacturing facility. The agreement includes an investment by Nucor in Helion and aims to accelerate progress towards sustainable, carbon-free industrial manufacturing.

Nucor is already a leader in decarbonising the steel industry and believes this project reinforces the company’s commitment to becoming the cleanest steel manufacturer globally. Nucor CEO Leon Topalian emphasised the significance of the collaboration describing the project as “a tremendous milestone in the potential for the use of nearly limitless clean electricity for industrial manufacturing”. The agreement demonstrates Nucor’s “commitment to be the cleanest steel producer in the world, while setting an example for all manufacturing companies”.

Helion CEO David Kirtley noted: “We’re passionate about helping the world reduce its dependence on carbon-based energy sources with abundant, clean fusion power. We are excited to partner with Nucor, a leader in decarbonisation in the steel industry. A project like this is only made possible by working with a forward-looking company like Nucor which is committed to decreasing its carbon emissions.”

Helion has previously built six working prototypes and was the first private fusion company to reach 100m degrees C plasma temperatures with its sixth fusion prototype, Trenta. The company is currently building its seventh prototype, known as Polaris, which, it claims, will demonstrate the ability to produce electricity in 2024. However, in August 2021, Helion said Polaris would be completed in 2022. Moreover, although Helion has been able to generate energy with its fusion prototypes, like all most other fusion projects, it has yet to build a device that creates more electricity than it uses.

Helion is building a long narrow device called a Field Reversed Configuration. This pulsed, non-ignition fusion technology involves shooting plasma from both ends of the device at a velocity greater than one million miles per hour. The two streams smash into each other, creating a superhot dense plasma, where fusion can occur. While many fusion approaches use deuterium and tritium as fuel, Helion’s fusion system will uses deuterium and helium-3 – a rare type of the gas used in quantum computing. Helion’s Polaris prototype is also intended to commercially produce helium-3 “for the first time ever here on Earth”, according to Kirtley. Helion still needs design and construction approvals from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), as well as local permits.

In May, Helion signed an agreement to provide Microsoft with electricity from its first fusion power plant. Constellation will serve as the power marketer and will manage transmission for the project. Helion said the plant is expected to be online by 2028 and will target power generation of 50 MW or more after a one-year ramp up period.

Nucor and Helion are working together to set a firm timeline and are committed to beginning operations as soon as possible with a target of 2030. Nucor is making a direct investment of $35m in Helion as part of the agreement. Helion Energy has received over $600m in funding and commitments for another $1.7bn to develop commercial nuclear fusion.