TAE Technologies in Foothill Ranch sees more investors putting their money into the development of nuclear fusion with its promise of abundant, clean energy now that a prominent, U.S. government-owned laboratory has proven the feasibility of the process.
The Department of Energy (DOE) said last month that scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory had driven two atoms together with lasers in a test that produced more energy than was used to create it.
The Dec. 5 experiment demonstrated that the process whereby the sun gets its power can be replicated on Earth, opening up major vistas for energy production. That power could eventually be used to generate huge amounts of electricity.
Jim McNiel, the chief marketing officer of TAE, emphasized the Livermore lab’s breakthrough still needs plenty of money to make it a commercial reality.
He said by way of comparison that in medical space, some investors put their money down early on while others wait until there is approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
“In a manner of speaking here, Lawrence Livermore just got us through the FDA,” McNiel told the Business Journal on Dec. 13 shortly after the DOE announcement. “That should open up the minds and pocketbooks for a different breed of investors.”
TAE, which has raised about $1.2 billion to date, is looking to raise more than $250 million in a new round.
“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 after the breakthrough in Livermore was announced.
McNiel said the company’s earlier investors over the past two decades were “pioneers” and “visionaries.”
The DOE and Biden White House are committed to making fusion a reality. McNiel said. Biden’s goal has been to achieve commercial fusion within a decade, according to the DOE.
The Wall Street Journal said that the “fusion industry is suddenly white-hot” after the lab breakthrough.
While commercialization is years away, investors are expected to new “flock to technology’s long-term clean-energy potential,” the newspaper said.
TAE is aiming for prototype commercialization sometime around 2030, while others say it could take decades for full commercialization.
Industry Investment Needed
McNiel said that one way to compress the time frame “is to increase the amount of capital to make these things happen.”
“Fusion needs to be invested in,” according to McNiel. Development of the process will also bolster national security.
TAE says its scientific process, focusing on hydrogen-boron fusion, is different from the other developers and provides a “much clearer path” toward commercial fusion.
“There’s going to be a number of different ways in which people go about doing it. TAE is one of the leaders in the space,” the TAE chief marketing officer said.
Now he said the “the real challenge is no longer proving the science and the theory, but actually developing it in practice. That’s what we’re focused on.”