Commonwealth Fusion Plugs in $115M To Develop Nuclear Reactor

Nuclear energy startup Commonwealth Fusion Systems closed a $115 million Series A funding round to beef up work on the demonstration fusion reactor power plant it hopes could one day be a breakthrough in the fight against climate change.

The infusion of cash is coming from Future Ventures, Khosla Ventures, Lowercase Capital, Moore Strategic Ventures, Safar Partners, Schooner Capital, Starlight Ventures, Italian oil and gas company Eni, Bill Gates’s Breakthrough Energy Ventures, and MIT’s venture firm The Engine.

Fusion reactors aim to harvest power by mimicking the way the sun creates energy by fusing atoms in an extremely hot plasma. CFS’s approach to the long-sought-after technology depends on strong, high-temperature superconductor magnets. The startup is working with MIT to put together a demonstration of the technology, called SPARC, by 2025.

CFS says it has 25 employees, although in total about 100 people are working on the reactor project, including researchers, students, and faculty from MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center. “We are currently hiring and growing fast,” spokeswoman Kristin Cullen tells Xconomy. The company’s website lists 14 open positions, including a nuclear systems engineer, a cryogenic engineer, and a superconducting magnet systems engineer.

Growing concern over global warming has fueled a handful of companies to dig into maturing fusion reactor technology, including CFS; ITER, a 35-country collaboration based in France; TAE Technologies in California; Tokamak Energy in England; and General Fusion in British Columbia. New ways of make energy have drawn attention from a slew of tech billionaires: While CFS landed backing from Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) co-founder Gates’s Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) CEO Jeff Bezos has backed General Fusion, and the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen had invested in TAE Technologies.

While fusion reactors are often put forward as a promising carbon-free energy alternative, the technology has yet to become more than just a promise. The old joke is that fusion power is, and will remain, the energy of the future—a fact underlined by CFS investor Steve Jurvetson of Future Ventures, who says in a press release he’s been looking for 20 years to find the right company pursuing fusion power.

History aside, there’s a race underway to get the technology to market. Michl Binderbauer, chief executive at TAE, has said he expects commercialization of fusion reactors to be five years away. ITER, much like CFS, is looking to have a demonstration plant up and running by 2025. General Fusion is also focused on developing a prototype.

Khosla Ventures founder Vinod Khosla, part of the Breakthrough Energy coalition, says in a press release there need to be major advances in the way the world makes power. “After looking closely at the fusion landscape, it’s clear that the CFS approach is the world’s best bet for getting commercial fusion power in time to make a difference.”

Brian Dowling is a Senior Editor at Xconomy, based in Boston. You can reach him at bdowling [at] xconomy.com. Follow @be_d

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