First Plasma in World’s Most Advanced Plasma Generator

July 09, 2017 by Paul Shepard

Tri Alpha Energy (TAE), the world's largest private fusion company, has achieved first plasma on its newest generator, Norman, formerly known as C-2W and now named after the company's late co-founder, Dr. Norman Rostoker. The $100 million plasma generator, the fifth in a series of devices built over the last 20 years, will continue validation of the company's underlying technology and enable commercialization efforts toward delivering utility-scale fusion energy.

With Norman now operational, the company will continue to move quickly down its developmental path, expanding temperature ranges and sustaining plasma for longer periods towards perfecting the essential operating characteristics required to sustain fusion reactions. Over the coming months, the company will be accelerating Norman's levels of performance to further validate the fundamental confinement requirements that will ultimately be necessary for commercial operations.

Michl Binderbauer, President and CTO, commented that "this important milestone is a great achievement for our company, and will allow us to further our leadership in breakthrough fusion technology, while critically validating our unique vision of generating clean, sustainable and abundant energy. It is a great honor to nickname this machine Norman after our late founder and mentor Norman Rostoker, as we believe this machine will continue to prove the approach to plasma physics he first envisioned and to which he dedicated his life."

Like previous iterations of the device, Norman uses an advanced field-reverse configuration (FRC) combined with intense neutral beam injection to create and confine plasma. Construction on this fifth-generation machine began in June of 2016, and it sits in a newly designed headquarters facility and control room in Foothill Ranch, California. It takes the place of the company's previous plasma generator, C-2U, which was able to successfully achieve its critical milestones including at-will plasma sustainment in June of 2015. Norman expands upon these milestones with the opportunity to bring forward new understandings in plasmas dominated by highly energetic particles.

TAE utilizes proprietary advanced beam-driven field reversed configuration (FRC) technology to create a superheated plasma environment. Today, this environment is used for technology development. In a future power plant, hydrogen and boron (p-B11) would fuse generating helium and energy. Tri Alpha Energy has taken significant steps toward the engineering integration of the FRC technology and has operated a national lab-scale machine, which in many aspects resembles a future power plant.

TAE technology applies a fundamentally different approach to addressing the historic challenges that have hampered fusion-based electricity generation – the inability to maintain fuel particles (plasma) “long enough” and at temperatures “hot enough” to validate the path to fusion power.

In June 2015, Tri Alpha Energy demonstrated a significant breakthrough in addressing “long enough,” the most fundamental scientific challenge. The company delivered sustained plasma performance in its C-2U machine. This milestone is indicative of indefinite plasma life, limited only by the constraints of current hardware and not by underlying physics.

Tri Alpha Energy is now addressing the “hot enough” challenge. Both sophisticated modeling and actual performance data already indicate the Tri Alpha Energy plasma will perform better and better at higher and higher temperatures (“scaling law”). The company is currently investing $200 million to build a new machine (Norman) to validate the “hot enough” milestone over the next three to four years.

Tri Alpha Energy also has started to engage with utility and industrial partners to jointly develop a commercialization plan to license its technology. The key aspects of this plan are to determine the regulatory framework and demonstrate technology readiness. TAE expects to take the first steps toward commercialization over the next decade.