Amongst the most secretive and best-financed is Tri-Alpha energy. They’ve released nothing more than a Powerpoint, but have raised somewhere over $140 million from the likes of Goldman Sachs, Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, Russian tech investment firm Rusnano, and, weirdly, former LA Law star Harry Hamlin.
“For some reason the rich guys like however Tri-Alpha presented,” says Brian Wang, who follows developments in fusion as director of research at Next Big Future. From what Wang can tell, Tri Alpha’s approach looks like the one put forward by a NASA and Department of Defense funded company called Helion Energy, which involves colliding units of plasma and magnetic fields known as plasmoids, but he says “the paper that’s been released does not indicate technical results that they’re way ahead.”
Lawrenceville Plasma Physics, a small New Jersey-based outfit, is going in a more complicated, but open route. As opposed to approaches that use the hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium (DT) as fuel, LPP is attempting to use a hydrogen and boron-based fuel known as pB11 instead. Despite scant funds, the potential economics of LPP reactors make them more appealing than other approaches.
“If you have another clean way to produce [energy] at 2 to 10 cents per Kw/Hr, the world does not change,” says Brian Wang. In that range, the fusion energy would be cost competitive with other renewables, as while as fossil fuels. But it would not be cheap enough to prevent investment in new capacity for dirty energy. New coal plants and oil refineries would continue to be built. “Only LPP, if they can get it down to .1 cent per Kw/Hr does the world change.”
If LPP is able to develop a reactor that’s a quarter or a fifth the price of dirty energy, than Fitzgerald thinks anyone in their right mind would switch over “purely as a market-driven proposition.” It’s a potential market of untold billions. “Even if there was only one chance in 3 or 50/50 or one chance in 2, the potential payoff if they succeed is so amazing, that I was willing to risk my money,” he says.
To clarify –
If we have nuclear fusion producing commercial energy at 2 o 10 cents per kwh it will be great. Nuclear fusion would likely capture 20-50% of the electricity generation market over the course of 3-5 decades. At those prices nuclear fusion could help close the nuclear fission fuel cycle more cheaply than most other methods. However, we could build up nuclear fission reactors now at those prices.
LPP being able to change the world if they succeed in producing energy at 0.1 cent per kWh. Change the world meaning more than just shifting the energy generation risk. 0.1 cent per kWh would mean energy costs 20 times or more cheaper. It would mean a massive boost to the world economy and enable far more energy abundance and would drive the world economy to grow by several times.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.