In a mid-century world with nearly 10 billion people and endless uses for powering our everyday lives—how will we quench our ever-growing thirst for energy?
Distributed solar and wind power generation is well on its way to decarbonizing the electric grid in many industrialized parts of the world. In some regions, it’s already cheaper on a marginal cost basis to add new renewable energy generation capacity than it is to continue operating existing fossil fuel plants. But there isn’t as clear a solution to meeting the energy demands of sectors that can’t be easily electrified due to their need for either extremely high heat or long-range mobility—or a combination of both. That’s a major problem for significant pockets of the global economy, especially for industries that Autodesk serves, including architecture, engineering, construction, and design and manufacturing.
We need more sustainable, energy-dense ways to power hard-to-abate sectors like shipping, long-haul aviation, trucking, and heavy-duty transportation. Otherwise, nearly a third of global carbon emissions could be left unabated into the future.
Several promising approaches are on the horizon, like clean hydrogen fuel production, but one solution holds a uniquely exciting promise of abundant, near-limitless clean energy: nuclear fusion.
The fusion opportunity
Nuclear energy is often conflated with nuclear fission—the widely commercially available generation process responsible for 18% of US energy production—which is sometimes criticized for its volatility and potential for irreversible environmental damage. However, the distinction between nuclear power derived from fission versus fusion reaction is significant.
Put simply, fusion reactions are what power and sustain all stars, including our Sun. Unlike conventional nuclear fission reactions, which split one atom into two or more atoms, fusion forges two atoms into one—releasing 3 to 4 times more energy but without the risk of meltdown or radioactive byproducts.
Until recently, fusion technology has remained a borderline science-fiction fantasy, mainly due to the challenge of creating an environment with sufficient temperature, pressure, and confinement time necessary to form and host the plasma in which fusion reactions can occur. Although research into fusion power began in the 1940s, fusion reactor designs have yet to sustainably produce more power than is required to initiate the reaction (known as Q>1). Until then, fusion will remain science fiction and not science fact.
Grid-scale fusion has seen remarkable scientific advancement in recent years, which is encouraging, but the world is still waiting on design approaches that can achieve near-term commercial deployment—especially those that address the unique energy needs of the economy’s hard-to-abate sectors. Today, the promise of fusion energy production is closer to reality than ever, but we have much more rapid innovation to do in this decisive decade.
Why Avalanche Energy?
The Autodesk Foundation is pleased to welcome to our Energy & Materials portfolio Avalanche Energy, a Seattle-based startup that designs, tests, and builds micro fusion reactors for a broad array of off-grid power applications.
Due to their small size, Avalanche’s micro fusion reactors offer the energy density, output, and flexibility to provide abundant clean energy across sectors. The small form factor enables an iterative approach for faster design, build, test, and fix cycles, allowing for a less costly and more modular, near-term, and mobile design than other fusion efforts.
Avalanche’s micro fusion reactors are designed to generate power at a kilowatt scale that can be packaged together for larger megawatt outputs—ideal for mobile and industrial applications, including ground transportation, aviation, space propulsion, and microgrids for remote communities when aggregated into larger power banks and clusters.
Avalanche’s modular, micro fusion reactors hold the potential to revolutionize—and decarbonize—key pockets of the global economy needed to decouple economic growth from emissions.
The Autodesk Foundation’s investment in Avalanche will support the development of its micro-reactors while accelerating its progress toward commercially viable Q>1 fusion technology. As with all organizations in our investment portfolio, Avalanche has access to Autodesk technology, technical expertise, and networks.
Our collaboration will focus on leveraging Autodesk design capabilities to accelerate Avalanche’s product development cycles, with a particular emphasis on radiative shielding and safety measures for mass-market commercial adoption.
“Avalanche Energy is excited to collaborate with the Autodesk Foundation to reimagine a future where we have micro fusion reactors and how that will impact the design of vehicles and distributed energy, and how we live in a carbon-zero world,” said Avalanche CEO Robin Langtry.
We look forward to advancing one of the world’s first Q>1 nuclear fusion companies as it redefines and reimagines nuclear energy systems for scale.
Learn more about how Avalanche is disrupting the energy sector and innovating toward a decarbonized economy.