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Energy Charges

In the scientific realm, the fusion energy breakthrough announced last week by the
Department of Energy is akin to the historic four-minute mile reached in 1954 by Roger Bannister, says TAE Technologies of Foothill Ranch, one of several groups looking to commercialize such moonshot science.

“We didn’t know if it was even physically possible. Shortly thereafter there was runner after runner after runner who kept improving on the time,” TAE Chief Marketing Officer Jim McNiel told our Kevin Costelloe last week, after the announcement.

He adds: “I think that’s what you’re going to see now.”

Researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory on Dec. 13 said they had proven the possibility of replicating on Earth the process whereby the Sun gets its power.

Fusion energy could in theory provide nearly limitless supplies of clean and abundant power.

“It’s a crucial step that validates a theory and bolsters our growing field of work in fusion energy,” Michl Binderbauer, TAE’s CEO and a prior Business Journal Innovator of the Year Award winner, told the Wall Street Journal last week.

The fusion revolution won’t happen overnight. TAE, which has raised about $1.2B to date and is looking to raise more than $250M in a new round, sees commercial prototype service possibly starting around 2030. Others predict it will take far longer.

“The real challenge is no longer proving the science and the theory, but actually developing it in practice,” McNiel said. “That’s what we’re focused on.”

TAE Technologies plans to build a new reactor prototype at a 100K-SF facility in the Irvine Spectrum, just down the street from the new 125K-SF HQ of fast-charging EV battery developer Enevate, which this month named former Faraday Future Intelligent Electric (Nasdaq: FFIE) exec Robert Kruse as its new CEO; see Kevin Costelloe’s page 8 story for more.

Prior to Gardena-based EV maker Faraday, Kruse worked with Irvine’s Karma Automotive, whose own Irvine HQ is also nearby.

Faraday announced last month an equity financing deal worth up to $350M from N.J.-based hedge fund Yorkville Advisors, which counts the EV sector as one of its focus areas.

Around the same time as the Faraday deal, a unit of Yorkville struck a pact with Anaheim’s Phoenix Motor (Nasdaq: PEV) to buy upward of $10M of stock in the maker of electric-powered trucks and buses.

It’s the largest funding deal for Phoenix (whose CEO, Lance Zhou, previously ran Karma) since its IPO this June, when it raised a modest $15.8M.

Phoenix Motor had the largest traditional IPO for an OC company this year, though the proceeds raised are a far cry from the nearly $14B raised by Rivian Automotive (Nasdaq: RIVN) a year ago. About a dozen other local firms went public last year via IPO, the most ever seen here.

If 2021 was the Year of IPO in OC, 2022 has been the Year of the SPAC—see Emily Santiago-Molina’s story on this page for more on the parent of apparel company St. John Knits going public via the reverse merger route.

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Mark Mueller
Mark Mueller
Mark is the Editor-in-Chief of the Orange County Business Journal, one of the premier regional business newspapers in the country. He’s the fifth person to hold the editor’s position in the paper’s long history. He oversees a staff of about 15 people. The OCBJ is considered a must-read for area business executives. The print edition of the paper is the primary source of local news for most of the Business Journal’s subscribers, which includes most of OC’s major corporate and community players. Mark’s been with the paper since 2005, and long served as the real estate reporter for the paper, breaking hundreds of commercial and residential real estate stories. He took on the editor’s position in 2018.
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