Abingdon, England-using fusion energy for commercial viability — and perhaps, ultimately, a clean power source that will replace fossil fuels for centuries — has long been the ultimate. It has been regarded as a moon shot.
However, investors’ interest in fusion energy continues to grow slowly, and the number of start-ups in this area continues to grow, with an estimated 1,100 people making a living from these companies in some countries. .. An industry is being formed as the network of companies supplying highly specialized equipment, such as the powerful magnetic components required for fusion devices, is expanding.
The UK Government has recently recognized the need to issue fusion energy regulations. This is a milestone for a fast-growing industry.
No one knows when fusion energy will be commercially viable, but promoting private investment warns of global warming.
“No one has a better plan to deal with the climate crisis,” said David Kingham, one of the three co-founders of a company called Tokamak Energy, which raised about $ 200 million primarily from private funding. I am.
The goal of tokamak energy is to finally heat the hydrogen isotopes sufficiently so that their atoms react and release large amounts of energy. This is the essence of fusion, often described as the energy behind the sun and stars.
The company’s lab in a business park on the outskirts of Oxford warns that loudspeakers will be tested every 15 to 20 minutes, and brings a 14-foot-high, 14-foot-thick fusion device into the room. You need to keep out. Steel wall. There is a growl that lasts about 1 second. The monitor then displays an eerie pulse video inside the device as a powerful beam blows into a superheated gas called plasma.
During testing, the Tokamak prototype machine, which cost £ 50 million to build, reached 11 million degrees Celsius. Scientists believe that it needs to reach 100 million degrees Celsius, or about seven times the temperature in the center of the sun. They expect to get there by the end of the year.
One of the scientists in the Tokamak control room, senior physicist Otto Asunta, 40, has increased the number of employees by 10 times to 180 since joining the company six years ago, and his work is becoming more sophisticated. Said.
“We build world-class devices,” he said.
The company name refers to the type of device that was first invented in the former Soviet Union and is now the main focus in this area. Tokamak attempts to achieve fusion by using powerful magnets to contain and compress the superheated gas. This creates a kind of lightning in the bottle.
In 2009, the company opened a fusion research center in Culham, the British government, and Southern France ITERA very large device, about 100 feet in diameter, is being built at a cost of $ 25 billion.
The decision at that time was lonely. Now they have a lot of companies.
Since the early 1990s, the number of fusion start-ups has grown rapidly. Andrew Holland, CEO of the Fusion Industry Association, states that there are at least 35 companies in several countries, including: United States of America, United Kingdom, France, Canada, China. According to a future study by the Association and the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Corporation, they have raised a total of $ 1.9 billion, primarily from private sources.
Why spend money on a distant quest that has never made nickel? Investors say they are attracted to the technology that can change the game, the prospect of early entry into a fusion reactor that produces far more energy than it does. Such outcomes have great commercial potential.
David Harding, the founder of two investment management companies with an estimated £ 27m worth of holdings, is one of Tokamak Energy’s key backers. He has long been attracted to the idea of ”cheaping unlimited energy from scientific magic,” but now “it seems even easier, given the overall impetus for global warming.”
Investors say they are already seeing profits. Mark White, investment director of the UK Science & Innovation Seed Fund, which gave Tokamak’s founder the first £ 25,000, now has a total investment of £ 400,000 in his fund, judging by the prices paid during last year’s funding. Said it was worth the pound. a million. By that standard, the overall value of Tokamak Energy is around £ 317m.
Another investor in Fusion is Vinod Khosla, founder of Khosla Ventures, a venture capital firm based in Menlo Park, California, backing Commonwealth Fusion Systems, a spin-off from MIT.
In an interview, Khosla said the key to making decades-long projects like Fusion more appealing to investors is to split the business into milestones that investors can monitor before investing more. Said that.
“I don’t think it’s a problem to raise money for the next round,” Khosla said.
Proponents of Fusion say advances in magnets and other areas have greatly increased the chances of success. Despite its long-term reputation as an industry, Breakthrough Energy Ventures Investment Manager Phil La Rochel said, with decades of rewards, “in fact, we’ve made tremendous progress.” .. Breakthrough, a venture capital firm chaired by Bill Gates, has also invested in the Commonwealth.
Scientists in this area said the influx of private funds and the pursuit of diverse approaches to the problem were positive.
Jonathan E. Menard, Deputy Director of Research at Princeton Plasma Physics Institute, said:
However, Fusion executives say spending will need to increase significantly over the next few years. Tokamac Energy wants to build a pilot fusion machine at a cost of $ 1 billion, using powerful magnets that provide thousands of times the gravity of the Earth. This equipment could be the core of a power plant or the basis for other commercial applications.
It’s not easy to convince investors to leap from a single-digit million-dollar commitment to the $ 50 million to $ 100 million chunks needed for next-generation prototypes.
“People are still measuring their return on investment with regular indicators,” said Michl Binderbauer, CEO of TAE Technologies, based in California. Raised by a fusion startup.
With these pressures, Binderbauer sought to commercialize some of the technologies TAE developed on the road to fusion. A subsidiary of TAE is developing a treatment for cancer using a particle beam. He said ventures are an easier sale for investors.
But fusion proponents say a turning point may come when large investors rush to join. “If money starts to put things off, the sky is the limit,” said Hedge Fund founder Harding. “There aren’t many fusion projects in the world, but there are many investors.”
Fusion edge towards mainstream
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