Nuclear reactors and bombs have used fission, or the splitting of the atom, to generate enormous amounts of energy. While humanity has mastered fission, the other method of atomic energy generation, fusion, has proved elusive. The running joke is that "nuclear fusion is 30 years away, and always will be". Yet, fusion power holds great promise to sustain humanity's future energy needs and to fight climate change thanks to its zero-carbon emissions. And so, there are many fusion power startups all over the world that are experimenting with different methods. Let's understand what fusion power is all about, and then look at the top 7 nuclear fusion energy startup companies.
What is Fusion Power and why is it becoming important?
Nuclear fusion energy is the source of energy of all stars. Under massive gravity, hydrogen atoms combine to form helium atoms, releasing surplus mass as energy. If we can replicate this fusion process on Earth, while generating more power than we put in, we will get Fusion Power. It will be the cleanest and most efficient source of energy available to humanity. That's why so many government-funded science experiments and privately funded startups are running in the race to get there first.
Nuclear power plants using fission generate radioactive waste and carry the risk of meltdowns. Fusion power plants will be clean and safe, and produce large-scale electricity on-demand. But we have been unable to achieve nuclear fusion because it requires much higher temperatures, densities and pressures than any common industrial processes.
It might be possible for governments to fund trillions of dollars for massive fusion reactors. But that would hardly be a viable way of generating electricity. We need to be able to find methods that are both cost-effective and possible with lightweight, portable equipment, and designed to scale up to our society's needs. That's where the innovative efforts of fusion power startups come in!
- Helion Energy was founded in 2013 and is based in Everett, Washington, USA.
- According to crunchbase, it has raised $577.8M in funding till date.
- The leaders at Helion Energy are David Kirtley (CEO), Chris Pihl (CTO), George Votroubek (Principal Scientist).
- The Plasma Accelerator is the fusion power device being developed and improved by Helion Energy.
- The Plasma Accelerator can raise the fuel temperature to 100 million degrees celcius, and uses Helium and Deuterium as fuels.
- It is designed to directly generate electricity from fusion and electromagnetism. This separates Helion's approach from the conventional electricity production model of using heat from the fusion to power steam turbines. This makes it both more efficient and portable.
- Helion is targeting to achieve Net Electricty from Fusion by 2024.
- First Light Fusion was founded in 2011 and is based near Oxford, England.
- It has raised a total of $107M in funding.
- The leadership team at First Light Fusion includes Nicholas Hawker (CEO), David Bryon (CFO), and Bart Markus (Chairman).
- First Light Fusion has developed a unique projectile based technique for doing inertial fusion.
- The design of this technique makes it more efficient, carries lower risks, and is simpler than other inertial fusion methods.
- While the most common method of doing inertial fusion is using lasers, First Light Fusion sends high speed projectiles to hit the target fuel cubes. This process gets repeated, like an internal combustion engine.
- The fuel used by First Light Fusion is hydrogen, in the form of its isotopes deuterium and tritium. It is enclosed in a spherical cavity inside the target fuel cubes.
- First Light Fusion aims to complete building its pilot plant in the 2021-2030 decade, and start commercial production plants in the 2030s.
- General Fusion was founded in 2002 and is based in Burnaby, Canada.
- According to Crunchbase, General Fusion has raised $322.1M in funding till date.
- The leadership team at General Fusion includes Michel Laberge (Founder & Chief Scientist), Greg Twinney (CEO), Ryan Guerrero (CTO) and others.
- General Fusion uses Plasma Injector Technology and Magnetized Target Fusion (MTF).
- It uses hydrogen plasma as its fuel. The fuel is insulated by a magnetic field. Liquid metal is used to protect the machinery from the high temperatures of the plasma.
- General Fusion's prototypes carry on the magnetized target fusion in a pulsed form, creating heat that then runs steam turbines to produce electricity.
- The vision of General Fusion is to rapidly commercialize Fusion Power and create global supply chains. So it is now focusing its efforts on scaling up its power plants.
- General Fusion is building a Fusion Demonstration Plant in the UK to showcase its fusion power technology. It plans to complete it by 2025.
- Tokamak Energy started in 2009 and headquartered in Oxford, England.
- It has raised $123.1M, according to Crunchbase.
- Tokamak Energy is led by Dr. Chris Martin (Chairman), Dr. Mikhail Gryaznevich (Founder & Chief Scientist), Chris Kelsall (CEO), and others.
- Tokamak Energy, as its name suggests, is innovating on the traditional tokamak design. Tokamak is the doughnut-shaped or torus-shaped reactor design that is used in large government-funded science experiments.
- The two strategic technologies developed by Tokamak Energy are spherical tokamaks and high temperature superconducting (HTS) magnets. With these main components, it seeks to manufactor fusion power plants at scale.
- Tokamak Energy is currently building their fusion power demonstrator named ST-F1, set to complete by 2025. It's follow-up will be the ST-E1 that will demonstrate by 2030 a fusion power plant providing electricity to the grid.
- TAE Technologies (formerly Tri Alpha Energy), based in California, USA and founded in 1998.
- It has secured $1.2B funding till date, as per Crunchbase.
- TAE Technologies leadership includes Norman Rostoker (Founder), Michl Binderbauer (CEO & President), Toshiki Tajima (Chief Science Officer), and others.
- TAE Technologies is developing aneutronic fusion power, by combining insights from plasma physics and accelerator physics.
- The core tech involves an advanced beam-driven Field-Reversed Configuration (FRC) design. The aim is to confine high temperature plasma for long enough time to sustain a fusion reaction.
- TAE uses hydrogen-boron as its fuel, which is also known as proton-boron or p-B11.
- They have continued to iterate on their fusion plant design and are working on the sixth generation now. Their C2w/Norman fusion plant is able to sustain 70M degrees celcius in 2022.
- Their next two fusion power plants Copernicus and Da Vinci are set to be built and demonstrated in mid-2020s and early 2030s respectively.
- Founded in 2021, Focused Energy Inc. is a fusion startup based in Darmstadt, Hesse, Denmark and Austin, Texas, USA.
- It has raised $15M in seed funding so far.
- Focused Energy is led by Markus Roth (CSO), Thomas Forner (CEO), Todd Ditmire (CTO), and others.
- Being a new startup, they have a long way to go. Their path to success in fusion energy starts with development of Laser-Driven Radiation Source (LDRS) technology.
- LDRS can be used to test large objects without destroying them, which can be a 6 to 100 Billion dollars market. They can use it in architecture for structural testing of buildings integrity, detecting bombs and landmines, illicit smuggling, etc.
- The long-term and core vision of Focused Energy Inc. is commercially viable fusion power generation using direct-drive laser fuel compression. It will be a big improvement on the inertial confinement fusion technique.
- Founded in 2019 and based in Bletchley, UK, Pulsar Fusion is a nuclear fusion rocket company.
- It is led by Richard Dinan (CEO) and James Lambert (CTO).
- Its funding amount is undisclosed at the moment.
- Using deuterium as the fuel, Pulsar is using plasma technology for rocket propulsion. It has already developed Terrestrial Rocket Thrusters and Orbital Plasma Thrusters. Direct Fusion Drive is now under development.
- It acknowledges the emerging fusion power industry and seeks to support as well as ride on its waves.
- Hence, apart from its core mission, Pulsar is also investing in a portfolio of Fusion Intellectual Property including High Temperature Superconductors, Advanced Plasma Control and Confinement Analysis, and Divertor Target Plates.
- Pulsar Fusion tested its high-power rocket engine in 2021. The first prototype is expected to be built by 2025 and launched into space by 2027.
Fusion Power is predicted to be the leading power source for humanity in 2100. Our reliance on coal, oil, and natural gas is approaching a deadline. The zero-carbon emission and safe, high-density, on-demand energy source makes fusion the holy grail of clean energy. This is why so many government science projects and private companies are actively working on cracking fusion power. Be sure to keep an eye on these top 7 fusion power startups, some of them will become energy leaders in the coming decades.