Private Start-Ups Pursue Fusion Approaches Ignored by Government

(p. B5) Fusion reactions release no carbon dioxide. Their fuel, derived from water, is abundant. Compared with contemporary nuclear reactors, which produce energy by splitting atoms apart, a fusion plant would produce little radioactive waste.
The possibilities have attracted Jeffrey P. Bezos, founder of Amazon.com. He has invested in General Fusion, a start-up in British Columbia, through Bezos Expeditions, the firm that manages his venture capital investments. Paul Allen, a co-founder of Microsoft, is betting on another fusion company, Tri Alpha Energy, based in Foothill Ranch, Calif., an hour south of Los Angeles, through his venture arm, Vulcan Capital.
Peter Thiel — the co-founder of PayPal, who once lamented the superficiality of the technology sector by saying, “We were promised flying cars and we got 140 characters” — has invested in a third fusion start-up, Helion Energy, based near Seattle, through Mithril Capital Management.
Government money fueled a surge in fusion research in the 1970s, but the fusion budget was cut nearly in half over the next decade. Federal research narrowed on what scientists saw as the most promising prototype — a machine called a tokamak, which uses magnets to contain and fuse a spinning, doughnut-shape cloud of hydrogen.
Today’s start-ups are trying to perfect some of the ideas that the government left by the wayside.
After earning his doctorate from the University of California, Irvine, in the mid-1990s, Michl Binderbauer had trouble securing federal funds to research an alternative approach to fusion that the American government briefly explored — one that adds the element boron into the hydrogen fuel. The advantage of the mixture is that the reaction does not fling off neutrons that, like shrapnel, can wear down machine parts and make them radioactive.
Mr. Binderbauer, along with his Ph.D. adviser, Norman Rostoker, founded Tri Alpha Energy, eventually raising money from the venture capital arms of Mr. Allen and the Rockefeller family. The company has raised over $200 million.

For the full story, see:
DINO GRANDONI. “Start-Ups Take on Challenge of Fusion.” The New York Times (Mon., OCT. 26, 2015): B1 & B5.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 25, 2015, and has the title “Start-Ups Take On Challenge of Nuclear Fusion.”)

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