TAE Technologies secures funds to build next fusion machine

20 July 2022

Fusion energy company TAE Technologies has received investments to fund the construction of its sixth-generation research reactor that it says will demonstrate the viability of net energy from TAE's approach. The announcement came as TAE's fifth-generation reactor, Norman, has sustained stable plasma at more than 75 million degrees Celsius, 250% higher than its original goal.

A rendering of the Copernicus fusion reactor (Image: TAE Technologies)

TAE's approach to fusion combines advanced accelerator and plasma physics, and uses abundant, non-radioactive hydrogen-boron (p-B11) as a fuel source. The proprietary magnetic beam-driven field-reversed configuration (FRC) technology injects high-energy hydrogen atoms into the plasma to make the system more stable and better confined. This solution is compact and energy efficient, California, USA-based TAE says.

Norman - TAE's USD150 million National Laboratory-scale device named after company founder, the late Norman Rostoker - was unveiled in May 2017 and reached first plasma in June of that year. It was designed to keep plasma stable at 30 million degrees Celsius. In April 2021, TAE announced that Norman had produced stable plasma at over 50 million degrees Celsius. The machine has now proven capable of sustaining stable plasma at more than 75 million degrees Celsius, 250% higher than its original goal.

TAE said the milestone furthers confidence in its path to commercialisation, and has aided the company in raising USD250 million in additional funding from investors in the energy, technology and engineering sectors. When combined with prior rounds, TAE has now raised over USD1.2 billion from investors.

The strategic and institutional investments, it said, will fund the construction of its sixth-generation research reactor. TAE's Copernicus reactor, which will be constructed in Irvine, California, will operate well in excess of 100 million degrees Celsius to simulate net energy production from the conventional Deuterium-Tritium (D-T) fuel cycle. Copernicus will provide opportunities for TAE to licence its technology for D-T fusion, while scaling to its ultimate goal utilising p-B11.

TAE said Chevron, Google, Reimagined Ventures, Sumitomo Corporation of Americas (SCOA) and TIFF Investment Management are among the company's most recent investors, along with "a large US West coast based mutual fund manager and a big US pension fund".

"The calibre and interest of our investors validates our significant technical progress and supports our goal to begin commercialisation of fusion by the end of this decade," said TAE Technologies CEO Michl Binderbauer. "Global electricity demand is growing exponentially, and we have a moral obligation to do our utmost to develop a baseload power solution that is safe, carbon-free, and economically viable."

SCOA, the largest subsidiary of Tokyo-based Sumitomo Corporation, becomes TAE's first investor from Japan, and will become a partner in deploying commercial power and other fusion-derived technologies to the Asia-Pacific market. SCOA has signed a commercial collaboration agreement to pursue TAE-based technologies in Japan and Asia.

"Through this investment in TAE, Sumitomo Corporation will deepen its understanding of fusion power generation technology with the intent of leveraging its experience and business network to apply this resource across multiple markets and sectors, aiding in the decarbonisation of society," SCOA said.

"Through successful training of Norman's state-of-the-art control system, paired with proprietary power management technology and extensive optimisation of our machine learning algorithms, we have achieved a scale of control at an unparalleled level of integrated complexity," said Binderbauer. "Our long-standing expertise in fusion, together with seminal advances in design and operational mastery, are paying off handsomely as we progress toward delivering an inexhaustible clean energy source that has the capacity to transform the human experience and sustain future generations."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News