California-based TAE Technologies said on 8 April that it had raised an additional $280 million for its reactor-scale demonstration fusion facility to support the final step toward its commercialisation. The private fusion energy company announced a technology milestone by producing stable plasma at more than 50 million degrees Celsius in a proprietary compact reactor design that can scale to competitive fusion-generated power. “This milestone furthers confidence in TAE’s path to commercialisation,” the company said noting that the additional funding brings the total raised to more than $880 million “from some of the world’s most sophisticated investors”.
TAE said it aims to deliver “carbon-free baseload energy from the Hydrogen-Boron (aka H-B11 or p-B11) fuel cycle, the most abundant and environmentally friendly fuel source on Earth, capable of sustaining the planet for millennia”. It added that its latest achievement “crucially confirms a key differentiator of TAE’s patented technology: a positive relationship between plasma confinement and reactor temperature, meaning that the company’s compact linear configuration improves plasma confinement as temperatures rise”. TAE said that, by generating such stable high temperature plasmas, it had “validated that the company’s unique approach can scale to the conditions necessary for an economically viable commercial fusion power plant by the end of the decade”.
A portion of the capital will be used to initiate development of a demonstration facility called “Copernicus” that will operate well in excess of 100 million degrees Celsius to simulate net energy production from the conventional Deuterium-Tritium (D-T) fuel cycle. Copernicus will provide opportunities for TAE to license its technology for D-Tcfusion, while scaling to its ultimate goal utilising p-B11. The funds will also go to rapid commercialisation of TAE’s power management technology, which “will be used to extend range, efficiency, and faster charging of electric vehicles, as well as for deployment in residential, commercial, industrial, and utility-scale electrical grid applications.
TAE said its scientific achievements had attracted funding “with accelerated velocity, including over $130 million raised just this year”. Support has come from existing investors as well as from new strategic partners, sovereign wealth funds, institutional investors, and family offices worldwide. Company shareholders include Vulcan, Venrock, NEA, Wellcome Trust, Google and the Kuwait Investment Authority, as well as the family offices of Addison Fischer, Art Samberg, and Charles Schwab, among others. The funding had been received funding in tranches “based on projecting and achieving specific programmatic goals”. According to TAE, this “money by milestone” approach has kept the company on time and on (or under) budget for its entire existence of more than 20 years.
TAE’s said its current platform “Norman” nearly doubled its intended goals over an 18-month testing regime and “has now demonstrated consistent performance of reaching 50+ million degrees Celsius, replicated over many hundreds of testing cycles -- all in a compact machine that has very attractive economics when scaled up to a full power plant”. In 2015, TAE’s previous machine validated that the company’s approach can sustain plasma for an indefinite length of time (“long enough”). TAE has now unlocked the “hot enough” conditions needed to scale to a reactor level performance.
CEO Michl Binderbauer said: “This is an incredibly rewarding milestone and an apt tribute to the vision of my late mentor, Norman Rostoker. Norman and I wrote a paper in the 1990s theorising that a certain plasma dominated by highly energetic particles should become increasingly better confined and stable as temperatures increase. We have now been able to demonstrate this plasma behaviour with overwhelming evidence. It is a powerful validation of our work over the last three decades, and a very critical milestone for TAE that proves the laws of physics are on our side.”
Norman, TAE’s fifth-generation $150 milliom National Laboratory-scale fusion device, achieved the latest milestone “as part of a well-choreographed sequence of campaigns consisting of over 25,000 fully-integrated fusion reactor core experiments.” TAE noted. The experiments were “optimised with the most advanced computing processes available, including machine learning from an ongoing collaboration with Google (which produced the Optometrist Algorithm) and processing power from the (US) Department of Energy’s INCITE programme that leverages exascale-level computing”.