Compact nuclear fusion 1 million times more effective than other types, claims Israeli startup

NT-Tao’s CEO, Oded Gour-Lavie, discusses a novel clean energy approach taking the best of tokamak and stellarator technology.
Sade Agard
NT-Tao lab and CEO Oded Gour-Lavie
NT-Tao lab and CEO Oded Gour-Lavie.

Courtesy of NT-Tao 

  • NT-Tao, an Israeli startup, is developing a compact nuclear fusion system.
  • The technology is "1 million times more effective" than other solutions.
  • An interview with NT-Tao's CEO explores the potential of nuclear fusion, including how it fits in with the EV revolution.

The announcement of a potential nuclear fusion breakthrough from researchers at the US National Ignition Facility (NIF) in late 2022 sparked great excitement in a planet searching for sustainable energy sources.

The fusion experiments in California produced more energy from a tiny hydrogen capsule than was put into it, paving the way for the present nuclear fusion gold rush that has reached Israel.

The Israel Energy Ministry has pledged $11.5 million to establish a national nuclear fusion institute with funding to include NT-Tao, a local startup developing a compact nuclear fusion system.

Better yet, Honda has now also invested in NT-Tao, and its proprietary plasma heating method, which the company claims is 1 million times more effective at delivering energy production than other developing state-of-the-art solutions.

In an exclusive interview with Interesting Engineering (IE), NT-Tao's CEO and co-founder, Oded Gour-Lavie, discussed his motivations for co-founding the nuclear fusion startup after spending 30 years in the Israeli Navy, as well as the technology behind the compact solution.

We also explored how the potential of nuclear fusion fits in with the EV revolution.

Interesting Engineering: Could you briefly introduce yourself and tell us what NT-Tao is? What were your motivations for setting up the company?

Gour-Lavie: Once I retired as an Admiral from the Israeli Navy after a 30-year career that included commanding submarines, I decided to use my background in national security and electrical engineering to find my next challenge. 

I had a deep understanding of the role that energy plays not only in sustaining life but also in global security. When I came across fusion, I knew this was the perfect next challenge for me. Doron Weinfeld (co-founder and chief scientist) and I then decided to form NT-Tao in 2016. 

As a company, NT-Tao is focused on developing a compact and scalable nuclear fusion energy solution that will significantly reduce humanity's reliance on fossil fuels as well as remediate the challenges facing renewable sources.

The name NT-Tao plays on the plasma regime's three parameters: (n=density, T=temperature, and Tao = confinement time and written with an 'o' and not a 'u' as in the philosophy). It's also the triple product letters. The 'triple product' is an equation used in fusion to compare the efficiency of different systems and experiments. The higher the product, the more efficient the system.

IE: Could you describe the technology behind NT-Tao's proprietary ultra-fast plasma heating method? 

Compact nuclear fusion 1 million times more effective than other types, claims Israeli startup
NT-Tao lab, CEO Oded Gour-Lavie and cheif scientist Doron Weinfeld

What I can say at this time is that it's a dynamically stabilizing method and system. However, we are only able to disclose what we have included below, as it is proprietary. 

Here is some background on our prototypes, which give more insight into our topology and approach:

The last 'family' of prototypes was built to validate the energy coupling efficiency of our proprietary heating system. Prototype A (of this family) proved over 32 percent efficiency from capacitor bank to plasma. 

We then built prototype B with a stronger power supply (250 megawatts for millisecond pulses) and upgraded to a higher voltage (50 Kilovolt). 

We are moving on to our next series C prototypes, currently in construction and integration. Prototype C1 has stronger power supplies and will have increased confinement using background magnets that we built, with a strength of 5 Tesla [the standard unit of magnetic flux density; 1 T represents one kilogram per second squared per ampere] and additional stabilizing fields. This will validate the increase in temperature using state-of-the-art measuring and diagnostics equipment. 

Additionally, C1 and C2's heating system is expected to reach over 60 percent energy transfer efficiency to the plasma, bringing us even closer to energy breakeven.  

What I can say is that we found a way to build an extremely efficient 'transformer' that can transfer a lot of energy directly into the plasma.

IE: What makes your nuclear fusion technology stand out from other leaders in the industry?

Without giving away our secret power, NT-Tao is taking the best of tokamak and stellarator technology and refining those technologies to make a new design. This will operate at significantly higher plasma density, allowing us to generate a fusion reaction with a much smaller footprint than most other solutions under development. 

Compact nuclear fusion 1 million times more effective than other types, claims Israeli startup
Gour-Lavie with co-founder Doron Weinfeld at the NT-Tao lab

Our new magnetic chamber topology is designed to significantly reduce energy loss due to drifts, instabilities, and other plasma disruptions. It maintains the core temperature and creates a 'Super Stabilised Confined Plasma.'

For example, NT-Tao's Modular Fusion Reactor is far smaller than tokamak systems. It is poised to harness and incubate a fusion reaction [in a space] the size of a shipping container.

Furthermore, since NT-Tao's power supply technology has highly efficient energy coupling to the plasma, it enables a more flexible reactor that is expected to heat plasma at a 1000x higher density. 

Most other approaches are designed and limited to heating plasma at much lower densities, which requires longer pulses for energy output. NT-Tao's approach, on the other hand, will result in a significantly reduced pulse length (10ms compared to hundreds of seconds for Tokamaks and the like). 

Due to its high density, it will generate 1 million times the rate of hydrogen atom collisions, enabling greater overall efficiency. 

Additionally, by design, NT-Tao's solution is more compact and flexible, allowing it to be more easily integrated into various applications and settings. Unlike large generators like the tokamak, which cannot scale down, NT-Tao's solution is scalable, allowing it to be used for various power needs, from small-scale to large-scale applications.

This scalability makes NT-Tao a highly versatile and adaptable solution for a wide range of uses.

IE: What are some real-life applications for your compact nuclear fusion product? Honda is now involved - how might nuclear technology become crucial for electrified vehicles?

Once fusion energy is commercially viable, there will be a number of real-life applications. 

Namely, fusion will power EV charging stations almost anywhere without the need for grid connection, generate electricity for homes and businesses, desalinate seawater, produce high-quality materials for various applications, propel spacecraft, and much more. 

Regarding EVs specifically, the demand for a 100 percent clean source of electricity to power them will undoubtedly increase, putting further pressure on the existing electrical grid and highlighting the need for commercialized nuclear fusion technology. 

Fusion energy is poised to slash emissions throughout the entire EV lifecycle and serve as a stable and dependable energy source for EV charging. In addition, fusion technology could also be used to generate hydrogen fuel for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles - another form of clean energy transportation. 

Fusion's potential to power the mobility revolution is a key reason why Honda and other mobility-focused VCs have invested in NT-Tao's solution.

IE: What challenges do you expect for scaling up your nuclear fusion solution? Are there any general misconceptions about its safety for wide-scale use?

That's the beauty of our topology and approach; it is scalable, allowing for seamless expansion. We are expecting our fusion solution to produce 10-20 megawatts (MW) of power in a container that can be stacked, unstacked, moved around, and placed in areas where a large fusion reactor would not be possible. 

Fusion is also safe and has zero risk of meltdown. When a fusion reaction stops, it simply dissipates. I am so confident of its safety that I would happily install our fusion solution next to my house, where I live with my wife and our 5 children.

At NT-Tao, we are pursuing growth through a multi-pronged approach - as is common in the industry. 

When it comes to tackling climate change and developing a nuclear fusion energy solution, we don't have the luxury of waiting - disruptive thinking and practices are required to drive the scaling process forward. 

Research and development are required for the technology. However, scaling effectively isn't just limited to this realm. There are significant economic components to consider.

All of these must be in place before rapid scale-up can begin.

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