Thiel-Backed Helion Targets 2024 Breakthrough for Nuclear Fusion
(Bloomberg) -- Helion Energy Inc., a startup backed by billionaire investor Peter Thiel, raised $500 million to fund a system it says will be the first to generate net electricity from nuclear fusion, in 2024.
The Series E funding round was led by Sam Altman, the Everett, Washington-based company’s chairman, and includes existing backers Capricorn Investment Group and Thiel’s Mithril Capital, according to a statement Friday. There are also commitments for another $1.7 billion linked to certain performance milestones.
The news comes as world leaders and diplomats convene in Glasgow at a key United Nations climate conference to negotiate ways to curb carbon emissions, largely from fossil fuels. While nuclear fusion is not yet ready for commercial deployment, it offers the potential of carbon-free electricity without toxic waste, and backers say it could be a key part of the effort to battle global warming.
“Fusion should be part of the conversation as we talk about energy in the future,” David Kirtley, the company’s founder and chief executive officer, said in an interview. “The world should count on fusion.”
Helion is part of a growing wave of companies seeking to tap fusion -- the process that powers stars -- for commercial electricity generation. A handful have made important technological advances, but the challenge is developing a system that generates more electricity than it takes to run it. Helion says it can reach this milestone within three years.
The company’s Polaris generator uses pulsed non-ignition fusion technology to produce carbon-free electricity from plasma that’s heated to more than 100 million degrees Celsius (180 million Fahrenheit).
The company’s seventh-generation system will be about 6 feet tall (1.8 meters) and 40 feet long. Kirtley said the goal is to demonstrate that it’s capable of generating a positive amount of electricity, and wouldn’t say how much power it would be able to produce.
Conventional nuclear plants use fission, the process of splitting atoms, to generate energy. Fusion is the opposite, capturing energy that’s produced when atoms slam together and fuse into heavier elements.
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