Man, it's a hot one. TAE Technologies announced on Monday it successfully kept plasma stable at 75 million degrees Celsius, bringing it one step closer to harnessing the power of nuclear fusion.
The company reached the milestone using its five-year-old Norman reactor, which was designed to operate at 30 million degrees Celsius. By reaching 75 million degrees Celsius, it's exceeded its performance goals by 250%.
Simultaneously, TAE also announced that its series G-2 funding round raised a whopping $250 million, bringing its total funding up to $1.2 billion. Investments came from long-term backer Google, in addition to oil major Chevron and the U.S. arm of the Japanese trading company Sumitomo Corporation. The latter plans to partner with TAE to bring fusion power to the Asia-Pacific market.
The company’s goals to replicate the process responsible for the sun’s shine in a controlled environment and keep it stable enough to generate carbon-free energy are ambitious. But the new milestone shows its edging closer to meeting them.
TAE plans to use this influx of cash to construct a new research reactor, dubbed Copernicus at its Irvine facility. Copernicus represents the “penultimate step” to commercializing fusion power, the company said in a press release. The plan, as CEO Michl Binderbauer told Protocol last month, is to demonstrate that the new machine is capable of net energy generation via fusing hydrogen at 150 million degrees Celsius (though the reactor will not produce net energy in the test phase).
Copernicus will also enable TAE to show off its chops when it comes to fusing hydrogen with boron, a process that is non-radioactive. Boron is widely available, and is the “cleanest, safest, most economical terrestrial fuel cycle for fusion, with no geopolitical concerns or proliferation risks,” according to a press release. Copernicus is expected to begin operating around 2025.
“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,” said Binderbauer in a press release.
TAE, alongside most of its rival fusion power companies, says it intends to generate energy that can be used by the power grid by the latter years of this decade. The company has been pursuing the hydrogen-fusion reactor for 24 years, though, reflecting the challenges to reaching its goals. And given the long-running joke that fusion is always a decade or two away, it's worth taking TAE's advancements seriously but with a grain of salt.