- Commonwealth Fusion Systems Raises $1.8 Billion in Series B Funding
- General Fusion Closes $130 million in Series E Funding
- Nuclear Energy Agency / Governments Need To Recognize Potential Of Advanced Reactor Systems
- Nuclear Sector is Capitalizing on Opportunities in Artificial Intelligence
Commonwealth Fusion Systems Raises $1.8 Billion
Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS) announced this week it has closed on more than $1.8 billion in Series B funding to commercialize fusion energy. This includes capital to construct, commission, and operate SPARC, the world’s first commercially relevant net energy fusion machine. (CFS Technology web page) CFS has raised more than $2 billion in funding since it was founded in 2018.
In addition, it will enable the company to begin work on ARC, the first commercial fusion power plant, which includes developing support technologies, advancing the design, identifying the site, and assembling the partners and customers for the future of fusion power.
The round was led by Tiger Global Management with participation by new investors, including (in alphabetical order) Bill Gates; Coatue; DFJ Growth; Emerson Collective; Footprint Coalition; Google; JIMCO Technology Fund, part of JIMCO, the Jameel Family’s global investment arm; John Doerr; JS Capital; Marc Benioff’s TIME Ventures; Senator Investment Group; a major university endowment; and a pension plan; as well as current investors, including Breakthrough Energy Ventures; The Engine; Eni; Equinor Ventures; Fine Structure Ventures; Future Ventures; Hostplus; Khosla Ventures; Lowercarbon; Moore Strategic Ventures; Safar Partners; Schooner Capital; Soros Fund Management LLC; Starlight Ventures; Temasek; and others committed to the commercialization of fusion energy to mitigate climate change.
Milestones for CFS’s path to commercial fusion energy:
- 2018: Company founded based on decades of MIT fusion research
2020: Published a series of peer reviewed publications in the Journal of Plasma Physics that verifies SPARC will achieve net energy from fusion
2021: Started construction on campus that will host the SPARC building, a manufacturing facility, and company headquarters
2021: In collaboration with MIT, built and successfully demonstrated groundbreaking high temperature superconducting magnets, the strongest of their kind and the key technology to unlock commercial fusion energy
2025: SPARC achieves commercially relevant net energy from fusion
Early 2030s: First fusion power plant, called ARC, is completed
“The world is ready to make big investments in commercial fusion as a key part of the global energy transition. This diverse group of investors includes a spectrum of capital from energy and technology companies to venture capitalists, hedge funds, and university endowments that believe in fusion as a large-scale solution to decarbonize the planet,” said CFS CEO Bob Mumgaard.
“Fusion is the kind of innovation that can help fill the gaps in grids and put an end to fossil fuels. CFS is a company that executes – making possible what seemed impossible, one technical milestone at a time,” said John Doerr, Chair of Kleiner Perkins and author of Speed & Scale: An Action Plan for Solving Our Climate Crisis Now.
CFS is collaborating with MIT to leverage decades of research combined with new groundbreaking high-temperature superconducting (HTS) magnet technology. HTS magnets will enable compact fusion power plants that can be constructed faster and at lower cost. The mission is to deploy fusion power plants to meet global decarbonization goals as fast as possible.
CFS has assembled a team of leaders in tough tech, fusion science, and manufacturing with a track record of rapid execution. Supported by the world’s leading investors, CFS is uniquely positioned to deliver limitless, clean, fusion power to combat climate change.
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General Fusion Closes $130 million in Series E Funding
General Fusion announced this week it is closing an oversubscribed $130 million (USD) Series E funding round filled by a new syndicate of global investors. This financing, led by Temasek, significantly expands the company’s portfolio of institutional, sovereign, family office, and high net worth investors, providing the prelude to a large financing round being prepared for 2022.
Combined with broad financial support from the Canadian, U.K., and U.S. governments, the General Fusion Series E round supports aggressive pursuit of several near-term initiatives and milestones in its program to commercialize Magnetized Target Fusion (MTF).
In addition to a portfolio of important individual investors, which includes Jeff Bezos, Tobias Lütke, and Kam Ghaffarian, Series E brings a new syndicate of major institutional and family office investors to General Fusion.
“Collectively, the expansion of General Fusion’s investor base in this Series E financing provides a strong foundation for a larger financing next year,” said Greg Twinney, CFO, General Fusion.
“From our technology’s inception, we have had a laser focus on cultivating customers and creating a practical, clean energy solution that meets their needs. This approach resonates with investors looking to make an impact in the global energy transition.
These anchoring investors include Temasek, GIC, the Jameel Investment Management Company (JIMCO), and the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), as well as broader participation from other capital market segments represented by investors such as a large U.S. state pension plan and the hedge fund firm Segra Capital.
“Segra Capital believes General Fusion is best positioned among its peer group to deliver fusion at a commercial scale in the near term,” said Adam Rodman, Founder and CIO, Segra Capital.
“While Segra Capital has traditionally invested primarily in public markets, this compelling opportunity resonated with our core ESG and cleantech-focused partners, so we are excited to participate in this Series E financing and look forward to supporting the company in the future.”
“General Fusion’s drive to shape the market for clean fusion energy is just one of the many reasons why JIMCO is investing in its commercialization program,” said Fady Jameel, a member of the Jameel Family’s Investment Supervisory Board.
“The global energy sector is undergoing tremendous change to secure a cleaner future for all, which JIMCO is passionate about and ready to support through investments like the one in General Fusion.”
“With our 75-year history of investing in companies positively shaping the future of the core industries, we believe General Fusion’s global, technologically-advanced solution to commercial fusion energy make them a leader in this growing industry.”
With substantial capital support from both private and government sources, General Fusion has aggressively pursued deployment of its power-plant scale Fusion Demonstration Plant located at the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s (UKAEA) Culham Centre for Fusion Energy near London.
The company has also accelerated MTF technology development activities associated with its new Vancouver headquarters and opened a new facility adjacent to Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the U.S.
Furthermore, General Fusion has created a Market Development Advisory Committee (MDAC) focused exclusively on fusion. The company’s MDAC is currently comprised of nine leading energy companies and clean energy users representing critical markets for fusion’s carbon-free, on-demand power.
“General Fusion’s unique global presence, with facilities in three countries, allows us to be much more ambitious in pushing toward commercialization,” said Christofer Mowry, CEO, General Fusion.
“Our broad network of national laboratory and industrial partners, together with our advisory council of energy market end-users, positions General Fusion well to help the world achieve its net-zero carbon goals.”
General Fusion interacted with, and appreciated the support of, several firms during the Series E financing process, including VAHOCA, based in Singapore, and Disruptive Technology Advisers LLC.
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Nuclear Energy Agency / Governments Need To Recognize Potential Of Advanced Reactor Systems
(NucNet) The report warns increased deployment of renewables will lead to grid reliability issues
Governments and policymakers need to recognize the potential of advanced reactor systems as low-carbon, cost-effective means to help reach emission targets while overcoming potential grid reliability issues caused by the deployment of renewables, the Nuclear Energy Agency said in a report. (Full text PDF file)
The Paris-based agency said further, drastic decarbonization is needed in the electricity system to help countries on their way to achieving carbon-neutral targets. It warned that further increases in the penetration of variable renewable energy sources will inevitably give rise to power system reliability issues – a problem for which advanced reactor systems could offer a solution with their stability and maneuverability over broader timescales.
In terms of cost effectiveness, the NEA suggested that the cost of building an electricity system that could achieve very low CO2 emission rates would increase dramatically as the share of variable renewable energy sources increase, and would lower as the share of nuclear energy increases.
“Although the strategies of each country or region for carbon neutrality can be diverse, reflecting the characteristics and needs of individual energy markets… policymakers should nonetheless recognize that advanced reactor systems are a potential option to help achieve both low-carbon and reliable energy systems,” the NEA report said.
It said governments and industry should work together to demonstrate the capabilities of advanced reactor systems in target markets, and international collaboration should be promoted to improve the economic viability of advanced reactor system development.
Harmonizing industrial codes and standards, as well as regulatory frameworks across different countries, could reduce the technical barriers between markets in different countries and help business entities to gain economies of scale.
Various small modular reactor (SMR) and Generation IV advanced nuclear reactor systems – evolutions of today’s Generation III and III+ reactors – are under development and are capable of offering more flexible options with respect to energy supply.
Advanced reactor systems are capable of providing not only firm capacity to help the electricity system ensure sufficient supply and system stability, but also to ensure maneuverability over a wide range of timescales, from very-short-term (frequency response) to seasonal dispatchability.
The heat sector, which accounted for about 50% of final energy consumption globally in 2018 and about 40% of energy related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, is another area where advanced reactor systems can make a significant contribution to decarbonization. Higher temperature heat of 550°C and upwards could be provided by many Generation IV concepts under development. A large percentage of the current global heat demand falls in this temperature range.
In terms of SMR systems, the aim is to achieve higher deployment flexibility to allow these systems to be located closer to regions of demand, for example nearby industrial sites.
Hydrogen production by advanced reactor systems could significantly contribute to the reduction of CO2 emissions in many sectors. All advanced reactor system concepts can produce hydrogen using the existing low-temperature electrolysis technology, and some concepts could supply process heat at over 750°C, producing hydrogen with even higher efficiency through high-temperature electrolysis or thermo-chemical processes.
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Nuclear Sector is Capitalizing on Opportunities in Artificial Intelligence
(IAEA) Artificial intelligence (AI) offers enormous potential to accelerate technological development in nuclear fields, from science to energy to medicine, and the sector is making good progress in seizing on those opportunities, according to speakers in webinars organized by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in partnership with the IAEA.
‘AI for Nuclear Energy,’ held on November 24th, and attracting more than 1200 participants, was one the most popular sessions of ITU’s AI for Good Global Summit 2021. It showcased efforts to capitalize on technological advancements in artificial intelligence to enhance the development and deployment of nuclear power, enabling this low-carbon energy source to fulfil its potential in the fight against climate change and meeting the goals of the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement.
“In order to be competitive, as well as integrated into the mix of modern energy systems, nuclear power plants – in addition to being safe, secure and reliable – also need to be economical and efficient,” said Mikhail Chudakov, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of Department of Nuclear Energy, in his welcome remarks. “AI-based approaches can contribute to these areas.”
Industrial predictive analytics for maintenance, often using digital replicas of the real facilities, is one of several areas where AI is applied. Such AI-enhanced digital twins can provide valuable insights based on data gathered to improve and optimize operations. AI can also help cut operating costs associated with fuel, decommissioning and waste disposal, as well as reduce costs in plant engineering, manufacturing and construction.
Boris Makevnin, CEO of Cifrum Private Enterprise, a subsidiary of Russian state nuclear holding Rosatom, provided an indication of the potential of AI to reduce operational and maintenance costs, telling the webinar participants that an emergency stop of a turbogenerator at a nuclear power plant costs the operator on average €1 million for each day it is out of action.
“If you use predictive maintenance management and predict how your turbogenerator might work in the wrong way, you can do a planned stop earlier, using a shortened repair time,” said Makevnin.
“Comparing the cost of maintenance and the cost of repair, the investment in quite a simple machine-learning algorithm is incomparably small, almost a rounding mistake.”
AI can bring significant benefits to nuclear power operations in terms of insights, optimization, prognostic and automation, according to Heather Feldman, Director of Nuclear Innovation at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), a US non-profit conducting R&D related to the generation, delivery and use of electricity.
For example, AI can help increase the efficiency and design of complex procedures and operations, such as outage scheduling, in-core fuel management and fuel cycle parameters, Feldman said. In automation, AI can increase the reliability of tasks normally conducted by staff in high-pressure and demanding situations, mitigating human error and risks to personal safety.
“Anomaly detection, decision making and report analysis are some of the very tangible benefits we have from automation in nuclear power plants today,” Chudakov added.
The nuclear energy industry has been at the forefront of applying AI to its processes and operations, thanks partly to its collaborative, monitoring-heavy and data-driven nature.
“What we have seen is that the nuclear industry is very advanced, there is not one single nuclear customer of Metroscope’s that doesn’t have a monitoring and diagnostic centre,” said Aurelian Schwartz, CEO of Metroscope, an AI company for industrial diagnostics.
Even so, there remains significant untapped potential for AI, and standardization and cooperation are seen as key.
“International collaboration on the development of standards is very important to enable the wide adoption of AI for nuclear energy in an efficient and effective way. We don’t want to reinvent the wheel; we can start from the current standards, for example ISO/IEC’s and ITU’s, and focus on what is unique for nuclear energy,” said Daowei Bi, Director for Department of Digitalization Engineering at Shanghai Nuclear Engineering Research and Design Institute (SNERDI).
Role of AI in nuclear sciences and applications
In the earlier webinar, AI for Atoms, held on November 18th, participants discussed AI’s potential to accelerate technological development in many nuclear fields, ranging from nuclear medicine through water resources management to industry.
AI is used in several stages of fundamental research in nuclear science, which underpins technological discoveries. AI algorithms can predict systems behavior and conduct experiments and are a particularly useful tool to improve the design of scientific instruments and facility operation, explained Michelle Kuchera, Assistant Professor of Physics at Davidson College in the United States. AI-based approaches enable reproducibility of results, improve beam quality, allow increased beamtime and more experiments.
Machine learning is essential for advancing also fusion research, which is driven by huge amounts of data, explained Cristina Rea, Research Scientists at the MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center in the United States. AI can bridge gaps between theoretical understanding through identification of missing effects using databases and ultimately help experts optimize future fusion facility designs.
Georg Langs, Professor of Machine Learning in Medical Imaging at the Medical University of Vienna, Austria, emphasized how AI-based approaches enable novel diagnosis and associated treatment of diseases while saving costs. “AI not only enables automation but also helps us identify predictive values and particular structures and understand better the fundamental biology of humans.”
AI applications rely on data availability and its quality. The more curated data is available, the easier it is for the algorithms to identify patterns about certain phenomena. This is why international cooperation to obtain, develop, maintain and analyze global data with the help of AI in various nuclear fields is key to accelerating technological development and realizing the full potential of AI, the experts at the webinar concluded.
They also highlighted that collaboration across different disciplines is needed to enhance the use of AI applications in nuclear science and technology. This includes establishing common knowledge-sharing platforms to coordinate and support partnerships between cross-domain researchers for the development of guidelines related to regulation, education and training in AI. These platforms will enable researchers from around the world to share experience, knowledge and good practices.
Speakers also underlined the importance of formulating guidelines on ethical concerns related to the use of AI-based approaches in nuclear science and technology. This aspect is particularly relevant to projects targeting equitable sustainable development.
Ensuring data accessibility and transparency, developing appropriate databases, educating researchers and scientists on the benefits of AI are essential in promoting the use of this technology, speakers said. The IAEA is seeking to enhance the use of current and future AI innovations in nuclear sciences and applications by establishing an AI for Atoms knowledge-sharing platform, as well as by supporting education, training and community building in this area, said Melissa Denecke, Director of the IAEA Division of Physical and Chemical Sciences.
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