Clean energy company Helion Energy is committed to creating a new era of fusion-rich zero-carbon electricity. The company announced on November 5th that it had completed a $ 500 million Series E and tied an additional $ 1.7 billion commitment to a particular milestone.
The round was led by Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI and former president of Y Combinator. Existing investors include Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, Peter Thiel’s Mithril Capital, and a prominent sustainable tech investor. A Capricorn Investment Group and others are on the list. The funding includes an additional $ 1.7 billion needed by Helion to reach its key performance goals. Round leader Altman has been involved with the company since 2015 as an investor and chairman of the board.
Fusion energy has been a hot dream for clean energy enthusiasts since the first controlled thermonuclear fusion reaction was achieved about 60 years ago. This technology promises all the benefits of the current generation of fission generators, with very little risk, much less radioactivity in operation, and very little radioactive waste. However, there is one drawback. So far, fusion processes have been difficult to generate more energy than they consume to keep controlling their reactions.
As a company, Helion has focused on more important issues than fusion as a scientific experiment. The question is, can this technology generate electricity on a commercial and industrial scale?
“There are projects in the fusion area that are discussing heat, energy, or anything else, but Helion is focused on power generation. Can we get it out quickly at low cost? Is it possible to achieve industrial-scale electricity through fusion, “Helion co-founder and CEO David Kirtley asks. “We are building a system that is about the size of a shipping container and can supply industrial scale electricity, for example, about 50 megawatts of electricity.”
In June 2021, Helion was the first private fusion company to announce that it would heat fusion plasma to 100 million degrees Celsius. This is an important milestone on the path from fusion to mains electricity. Shortly thereafter, Helion revealed that it had begun construction of a factory to begin the manufacturing process for a seventh-generation fusion generator, which the company calls “Polaris.”
TechCrunch remembers being surprised to learn about the company’s $ 1.5 million round in 2014. At that time, the company said it could launch and operate fusion online power generation within three years. Seven years later, Helion seems to have found focus in the process, while facing some problems.
“We decided to change the direction a bit to focus more specifically on electricity, rather than focusing on the scientific milestones of energy. In terms of electricity, and the extraction of electricity, some technologies. We needed to prove that, and we also needed the money needed to reach those technical milestones, “Cartley recalls. “Unfortunately it took a little longer than I expected.”
As part of the investment round, Sam Altman will step up from Chairman of the Board to Executive Chairman of Helion for more advanced activities, including input to the company’s commercial direction.
“The first round of funding was led by Mithril Capital, with Y Combinator taking part, where we were introduced to Sam (Mr. Altman), who has been our funding ever since. He’s involved in funding. He’s an ambassador with a true understanding of physics, which is amazing. We’re really happy that he was interested in leading the investment. I think. We didn’t have to bring in outside investors who weren’t consistent and didn’t have a very deep understanding of technology, “Cartley explains. “He saw success and understood what it meant. We look forward to welcoming him not only as an investor, but as a more active participant. This is me. It means we can accelerate the timeline. Financing is part of it, technology is part of it. Ultimately, we need to bring what we have cultivated to the world, and Sam does it. Will support you. “
“We are pleased to invest in Helion, the most promising approach to fusion we have ever seen,” said Altman. “With very little money and a culture of startups compared to those spent on other fusion efforts, this team has a clear path to net power. If Helion succeeds, a climate disaster. Will be able to avoid and improve the quality of life of people. “
Helion’s CEO speculates that the first customer may be a data center. There are several advantages over other potential customers. Data centers consume large amounts of power, and in many cases the power infrastructure to accommodate backup generators is already in place. It also tends to be a little far from densely populated areas.
“These facilities have a standby power source for diesel generators and supply a few megawatts of electricity, which keeps the data center up and running for as long as it needs to address network issues. “It suggests that the company is more ambitious than just replacing a spare diesel generator,” Cartley said. The low cost and high availability of electricity means that the company can start supplying electricity to the entire data center as the default power source. “With 50 MW scale, we have great expectations for reducing electricity costs to 1 cent per kilowatt hour. We can completely change the behavior of our data centers and begin full-scale climate change response. Our focus is on producing carbon-free electricity at low cost. “
Due to physical limitations on how it can generate electricity, the company’s current-generation technology will not be able to replace Tesla Powerwall and solar panels. The size of the generator is about the same as the shipping container. However, a 50-megawatt generator can power about 40,000 households, and with that amount of power, this technology could bring a very interesting opportunity to distributed power grids.
“In the early days of my career, I kept focusing on fusion methods, and I’m convinced that there is a beautiful energy that is all electrical, including plasma, and then what can I do? I wondered if I would boil water and use an old and inefficient capital-intensive process, “Cartley explains. The company decided to use induced energy instead of water. “Is it possible to survive this era completely, or is it possible to run an electric car from the beginning instead of using a gasoline engine? We have been able to focus on addressing these questions. rice field”.
The company aims to be able to generate more electricity than it needs to operate a fusion reactor by 2024, and the current goal is to generate electricity on a commercial scale, the CEO said. ing.
“Our 2024 data is not a scientifically significant proof at this time. The goal is to pursue commercially installed power generation. There is a huge market, and this is every moment. We want to spread it to the world as soon as possible, “Cartley said in the end.
“By focusing on reaching electricity as soon as possible, we can expect fusion as part of a natural conversation about climate change and carbon dioxide-free power generation. We will be able to expect this funding. We are very excited to be able to secure this, and with the total funding we have raised, we should be able to get there. “
Image Credit: Helion Energy
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(Sentence: Haje Jan Kamps, Translation: Dragonfly)