After achieving temperatures greater than 75 million degrees Celsius and demonstrating real-time control of plasma with its fusion research reactor, Norman, US-based TAE Technologies has announced that it has secured strategic and institutional investments to fund the construction of its next research reactor, Copernicus.
TAE said its hydrogen-boron fusion research approach represents the fastest, most practical, and economically competitive solution to bring fusion energy to the grid. TAE’s sixth generation Copernicus reactor, which will be constructed in a 100,000-square-foot facility in Irvine, California, is designed to demonstrate the viability of achieving net energy generation with TAE’s advanced beam-driven field-reversed configuration (FRC) – the penultimate step on the path to commercialise fusion power. FRC uses a combination of plasma physics and accelerator physics, developed to integrate into the grid with TAE’s preferred fuel source, hydrogen-boron, also known as proton-boron or p-B11.
TAE’s fifth-generation reactor, Norman, unveiled in 2017, was designed to keep plasma stable at 30 million degrees Celsius. After five years of experiments to optimise Norman’s capabilities, the machine proved capable of sustaining stable plasma at more than 75 million degrees Celsius, 250% higher than its original goal. Copernicus is expected to demonstrate the viability of achieving net energy generation from TAE fusion by mid-decade.
TAE says it is committed to non-radioactive hydrogen-boron both for its abundance – in excess of 100,000 years supply globally – and because it is the cleanest, safest, most economical terrestrial fuel cycle for fusion, with no geopolitical concerns or proliferation risks.
“Through successful training of Norman’s state-of-the-art control system, paired with proprietary power management technology and extensive optimization of our machine learning algorithms, we have achieved a scale of control at an unparalleled level of integrated complexity,” said TAE CEO Michl Binderbauer. “Our long-standing expertise in fusion, together with seminal advances in design and operational mastery, are paying off handsomely as we progress toward delivering an inexhaustible clean energy source that has the capacity to transform the human experience and sustain future generations.”
With a track record of over delivering on milestones and performance capacity, TAE has attracted investor support and to date has raised a total of $1.2 billion for its commercial fusion development. In its recently closed Series G-2 financing round, TAE secured $250 million from investors in the energy, technology, and engineering sectors. Chevron, Google, Reimagined Ventures, Sumitomo Corporation of Americas, and TIFF Investment Management are among the company’s most recent investors, along with a large US West coast based mutual fund manager and a big US pension fund.
Goldman Sachs served as the exclusive financial advisor for the Series G-2 financing round.
Sumitomo Corporation of Americas (SCOA) is TAE’s first investor from Japan, and will become a partner in deploying commercial power and other fusion-derived technologies to the Asia-Pacific market. SCOA has signed a commercial collaboration agreement to pursue TAE-based technologies in Japan and Asia. This investment follows TAE’s landmark public-private partnership with Japan’s National Institute for Fusion Science (NIFS).
With a collaboration that began in 2014, Google’s investment follows the success of the jointly developed Optometrist Algorithm, which deploys Google’s machine learning to optimise the operation of TAE’s research reactors, substantially advancing the rate of progress and ultimate performance achieved. Programmatic steps that used to take well over a month can now be achieved within a day. In addition, the companies have developed breakthrough capabilities in holistically post-processing and integrating a large set of independent diagnostic measurements to produce high fidelity insights into experimental data at record-breaking scale.
Reimagined Ventures also joined the latest round. “Limitless zero-carbon clean energy is no longer a pipe dream – it’s a future within reach thanks to TAE Technologies’ incredible scientific advancements,” said Jack Litowitz, Director of Strategic Investments at Reimagined Ventures. “Few challenges are as complex as replicating the sun’s energy generation process. The number of sectors and lives that TAE’s industry-leading work could positively impact is immeasurable.”
Chevron invested in TAE through its Technology Ventures unit, dedicated to energy innovation. “TAE – and fusion technology as a whole – has the potential to be a scalable source of no-carbon energy generation and a key enabler of grid stability as renewables become a greater portion of the energy mix,” said Jim Gable, Vice President, Innovation and President of Chevron Technology Ventures.
TIFF Investment Management Chief Investment Officer Jay Willoughby stated “Opportunities to back extraordinarily talented teams who can change the world do not come around often. The progress TAE has demonstrated and continues to make on the road to safe, clean, commercial fusion power is unique and something we all need.”
TAE Technologies. founded in 1998 has filed more than 1,800 patents globally with more than 1,100 already granted. It has built five generations of National Laboratory-scale devices with two more in development, and an experienced team of over 400 employees. TAE is based in California, and maintains international offices in the UK and Switzerland.
Image: TAE’s fifth-generation fusion reactor Norman (phto courtesy of TAE Technologies)