Helion Energy, a clean-energy company, announced today that it has closed its $0.5 billion Series E. Additionally, $1.7 billion in commitments to specific milestones was added.
Sam Altman, OpenAI CEO and former president of Y Combinator, led the round. The round also included existing investors such as Peter Thiels Mithril Kapital, Dustin Moskovitz (co-founder of Facebook), and Capricorn Investment Group, a prominent sustainable tech investor. Helion will receive additional funding of $1.7 billion if it reaches key performance milestones. Altman, a round-leader, has been involved with the company since 2015 as both an investor and chairman.
Since the 60-year-old first thermonuclear nuclear fusion reaction, fusion energy has been a fervent dream for those who love clean energy. This technology promises all of the benefits of current-generation nuclear fission generators but with a fraction the risk and far less radioactivity. It also produces very little radioactive waste. One problem: The fusion process has not been able to produce enough energy to sustain the reaction.
Helion has been less focused on fusion as a scientific experiment and more on the more important question: Can their technology produce electricity on a commercial or industrial scale?
Projects in the fusion space often talk about heat or energy. Helion is focused on electricity production. Is it possible to get it out quickly and at a low price? David Kirtley is Helions CEO and co-founder. We're building systems about the size of shipping containers that can deliver industrial-scale power, such as 50 megawatts.
Helion announced in June that it was the first private fusion firm to heat a plasma to 100 million Celsius. This is a significant milestone on the road to commercial electricity from Fusion. The company soon announced that it had begun construction of its factory in preparation for the manufacturing of its seventh-generation, fusion generator, called Polaris.
TechCrunch was shocked to hear about the company's $1.5 million round in 2014. In 2014, the company claimed it would be able generate net power from fusion within three years. Seven years later, it seems that Helion had some stumbles but also managed to find a new focus.
We decided to pivot a bit, to concentrate less on the scientific milestones in energy and more on electricity. Some of the technologies needed for electricity and electricity extraction had to be proven. Kirtley says that we also needed funding to reach those technical milestones. Unfortunately, it took us a bit longer than we expected.
Sam Altman, who was previously the chairman of Helions' board, is now the executive chairman. This gives him a greater degree of activity and input into the company's commercial direction.
Mithril Capital led our first round of funding. Y Combinator was also part of that round. Sam was introduced to us at that time. Since then, he has been actively involved in fundraising. It is amazing to see him as a physics ambassador. Kirtley says that we were very pleased that he wanted to lead the investment instead of us having to seek out external investors who might be less aligned or have a deeper understanding of the technology. He has seen the successes and knows what they mean. We are excited to have him as an investment partner and have him more involved in the business. This allows us to accelerate timelines. Technology is an important part of the process. We need to make it available in the world. Sam can help with that.
Altman said that he is delighted to invest more in Helion. This is the most promising approach to nuclear fusion I have ever seen. This team is on the right track to producing net electricity, despite spending a small amount of money on other fusion efforts. We can prevent climate catastrophe and offer a better quality of living for everyone if Helion succeeds.
Helions CEO believes that data centers may be its first customers. These data centers have some advantages over other potential customers. Data centers are power hungry and have the infrastructure to accept backup generators. They are also located far from major cities.
Kirtley states that they have diesel generators as a backup power source, which gives them a few megawatts to keep the data center running long enough for any power grid problems. However, Kirtley suggests that the company is much more ambitious than simply replacing the backup diesel generators. Because of the low cost and availability of power, the company could power whole data centers as its default power source. We are thrilled to be able to achieve electricity costs below a penny per kilowatt hour. It is possible to completely transform the way data centers operate, and this will allow you to address climate change. We are focused on making low-cost, carbon-free electricity.
The current generation of company's tech won't be able replace your Tesla Powerwall or solar panels due to limitations in the way power is generated. A generator is about the same size as a shipping container. The generators can power approximately 40,000 homes at 50 megawatts. This technology opens up to distributed power grids with some very interesting possibilities.
Helion's power generation system is unique in that it does not use steam or water as an intermediary step in power generation.
My career began when I was looking at the fusion process and thought, "hey, you have this beautiful electric energy, including the plasma." What do you do then? Kirtley explains that boiling water is a slow, inefficient, and capital-intensive process. Instead of using water to make the process work, the company chose to use inductive energy. Is it possible to bypass this entire era? Can we bypass the gasoline engine to go straight to electric cars from the start? So that's what we've been focusing our efforts on.
The CEO stated that the company aims to be able generate more electricity than it takes to operate the fusion reactor by 2024.
The 2024 date is not a crucial demonstration of science at the moment. Our goal is to target commercially-installed power generation. Kirtley says there is a large market and that we want to make it available to the world as quickly as possible.
We should focus on electricity and fusion by focusing our efforts on that goal. This will allow us to be part of the natural conversation we have about climate change, as well as about carbon-free electricity generation. We are thrilled to have secured the funding. The amount raised should be sufficient to take us all the the way.