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OpenAI Eyes Fusion Energy from Helion for AI Needs

OpenAI is reportedly following in Microsoft's footsteps by striking a deal with fusion energy provider Helion to give datacenter electricity.

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The Wall Street Journal reports that is in discussions with Helion, aiming to secure a future supply of energy derived from the latter's nuclear fusion technology. This potential deal is seen as a strategic move to meet the high energy demands of OpenAI's AI data centers.

Helion's Unique Fusion Approach

Helion's goal is to create operational fusion power plants, and partnering with OpenAI could be a significant step in this direction. The startup's technology uses Helium-3, unlike most fusion efforts focused on the hydrogen isotope tritium. This distinct approach also has applications in quantum computing. Funds from a deal with OpenAI could significantly bolster Helion's ongoing development.

Sam Altman, who is both OpenAI's CEO and chairman of Helion's board, has opted out of these negotiations due to potential conflicts of interest. Altman's involvement in Helion includes a substantial $375 million investment. Helion's major project involves a sophisticated plasma accelerator heating fuel to extremely high temperatures and compressing it with magnetic fields to achieve fusion.

Powering AI: Current and Future Needs

Presently, OpenAI utilizes Microsoft's Azure servers for its AI projects, lacking its own data centers. Speculation suggests a $100 billion supercomputer initiative, codenamed Stargate, requiring an estimated five gigawatts of power, projected to be operational by 2028. This coincides with when expects to receive 50 megawatts from Helion's inaugural plant.

Last month, Microsoft announced its own deal to buy electricity from Helion. Given Microsoft's 50-megawatt arrangement with Helion, further expansion might be necessary to meet the increasing energy needs of OpenAI, especially if the plan involves several supercomputers. This partnership could mark a pivotal moment in Helion's journey toward delivering viable commercial fusion power, potentially reshaping energy sources for AI and other intensive applications.

Obstacles and Prospective Advances

Helion Energy, a private U.S. company based in Washington state, says it has developed a unique technology that uses a mix of laser and magnet technologies to achieve fusion. It plans to build a plant that will target power generation of 50 megawatts or greater after a one-year ramp up period. One megawatt can supply up to about 1,000 U.S. homes on a typical day.

Despite considerable financial backing, Helion has yet to demonstrate a net energy gain from its processes. Nonetheless, a collaboration with OpenAI might accelerate their progress. Altman has highlighted the need for advanced energy solutions like fusion to support the future infrastructure demands of AI.

Luke Jones
Luke Jones
Luke has been writing about all things tech for more than five years. He is following Microsoft closely to bring you the latest news about Windows, Office, Azure, Skype, HoloLens and all the rest of their products.

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