For TAE Technologies Inc., the race for limitless supplies of fusion energy involves an investment substantial enough to make the Foothill Ranch firm one of Orange County’s better-funded private companies.
The amount of private capital raised by the company to date totals about $1.2 billion, with a new round of more than $250 million planned for the near future.
“The work we’re doing is costly, and we need to tap every potential resource we can to continue this mission,” TAE’s Chief Marketing Officer Jim McNiel told the Business Journal on Nov. 21.
The company recently announced a new source of funds: it was awarded a $17.4 million grant from the state of California.
The California Competes Grant was awarded by Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Office of Business and Economic Development. The grant will directly support job creation in fusion development, as well as TAE’s rapidly expanding power management business, which includes systems for energy storage, grid efficiency, electric vehicles, fast charging and more (see story, page 36).
New Irvine Hub
From a scientific viewpoint, fusion is the same energy process that powers the sun and the stars, and it promises revolutionary changes in power production. Fusion holds out the possibility of being a nearly limitless supply of clean energy.
TAE is currently focused on the construction of its next-generation reactor known as Copernicus—named after the renowned 16th century Polish astronomer—at a new, 100,000-square-foot facility in Irvine. The site, at 9740 Irvine Blvd., is not far from the southern edge of the former El Toro Marine base.
Copernicus will be the next-to-last step before the company can feed into power grids and head into full commercialization, officials say.
McNiel said the company “will need a lot more than” 250 people to build Copernicus. The company’s headcount has topped 400 people and is heading to 500, a number that will be roughly doubled over the next several years.
The company is “on course to realize commercial fusion energy in the next decade, and it’s in no small part because we’ve drawn on a rich well of talent from the high-quality workforce of scientists, engineers, technicians, and tradespeople,” Michl Binderbauer, CEO of TAE Technologies, said in a statement on Nov. 17.
Race to Reality
TAE is one of dozens of scientific groups and companies across the world working to make nuclear fusion a reality, which could dramatically slow the negative impacts from burning fossil fuels and help equalize global energy markets.
“We hope to be commissioning Copernicus in 2025 and proving that we can get more energy out of the reactor than we put into it,” McNiel said.
The final step will be a reactor known as Da Vinci that actually puts electrons into the grid for power creation.
While the race for fusion energy has been under way for many years, the full exploitation of the difficult process still has a long way to go and is somewhat akin to a “moonshot” in its lofty aims.
Several companies are racing toward that goal, and McNiel predicts “two or three companies are going to be the first to net energy out” in a major breakthrough.”
“Once that happens, the whole field is going to change.
“That event will be a Kitty Hawk event for the entire world,” according to McNiel, referring to the advent of the airplane.
Da Vinci will be the “first commercial prototype reactor” and after its success, “our access to capital is going to change immensely.”
“That’s currently scheduled in the 2030 time frame.”
TAE, which calls itself the world’s largest private fusion energy company, last summer received an additional $250 million in funding from a collection of deep-pocketed investors including Google, Chevron and Sumitomo Corp. of Americas to build its latest machine, a sixth-generation research reactor.
McNiel said the company expects to be closing another round of more than $250 million “in the next 60 days or so.”
The company had posted 39 fusion jobs on its website as of Nov. 23 and more than 30 jobs in the power management unit.
“Our target is to put electrons to the grid in 2030,” McNiel said.