BC’s General Fusion gearing up to try to solve our energy needs
By Sohail Kamal, EP&T West Coast CorrespondentEngineering
Raises $27-million in latest round of financing
Producing power through nuclear fusion, quite possibly the magic bullet to solving our energy requirements, has been the aim of scientists for over half a century. If BC’s General Fusion’s view is correct, it is one that will be solved in the next handful of decades.
The technology involved, paraphrasing from General Fusion’s TED Talk and website, is this: General Fusion’s Magnetized Target Fusion system uses a molten lead-lithium filled sphere that is pumped to form a vortex. On each pulse, magnetically-confined plasma is injected into the vortex. Around the sphere, an array of pistons impact and drive a pressure wave into the centre of the sphere, collapsing the vortex and compressing the plasma to fusion conditions. When the atoms fuse and become helium giving off neutrons, the neutrons bounce around the molten lead-lithium and heat up it up. The lead gets pumped into a heat exchanger where it boils water into steam, driving a turbine to generate electricity?
General Fusion has raised more than $100-million, and just completed its largest round of fundraising to date, in the amount of $27-million CAD. From the summer of 2009 to present, the company has grown from four people to more than 60 people, and the firm is now in the strongest financial position ever. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Michael Delage, VP technology and corporate strategy, about this funding, what helped them succeed so far, and how other companies can benefit by staying dynamic.
Q: Was being situated in the gateway to Asia a factor in this new round of funding from Malaysia?
“Not sure if the West Coast was a factor for us, but earlier on, there were some really good benefits for being in Vancouver. For instance, I am originally from Ottawa, and there is something a bit different in Ottawa, [the tech sector] is a bit more narrowly specialized,” says Delage. In Vancouver, the diversity of companies taking on big problems, for instance General Fusion, D-Wave with quantum computers, or SaltWorks with desalination, gives the area a variety of companies that dream big. This fosters two big benefits, explains Delage: “The talent base is really good at these things, and the investor base is accustomed to big opportunities. That is pretty special.”
Q: General Fusion has garnered great press and funding, any advice to other technology entrepreneurs and start-ups who want to benefit from earned media and investment?
“We consider ourselves very fortunate, as the earned media helped with recruiting people and with attracting investments,” explains Delage. Also, the inherent attractiveness of the big idea didn’t hurt General Fusion, and looking through their website it is clear that they have been diligent in explaining fusion power and how their plan might work to solve the puzzle. “It is certainly worth it for start-ups and entrepreneurs to communicate key messages. In 2013, we made a concerted effort as a team to refine how we tell our story and make our ideas visual and tangible through the website. That really helped to get the TED Talk… all of these successes building one after another.”
Q: Can you share a challenge that General Fusion had to overcome and how other tech companies can avoid similar pitfalls in the future?
“Fusion power is an incredibly difficult technology to work with, one of the things we’ve done well is to stay efficient and fast. We have a team with a lot of practical hands on experience, and we give our engineers the power and responsibility to make recommendations, fix issues and solve challenges,” continues Delage.
Q: Any other message that General Fusion wants to share with our readership?
“Fusion gets a bit of a bit of a bad rap,” Delage says, “but we are standing on the shoulders of giants. Increasingly, it’s becoming less about if we can do fusion, and more about how and when it is going to be done. If we are the first ones, then great, but even if we’re not, it’s going to happen, and it’s going to happen in the lifetimes of people reading this story.”
The new funding, led by Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund, brings the Burnaby company money, but perhaps as important, it is a validation of General Fusion’s progress over the past five years. It also means that General Fusion now has a global investment base. There will be a second closing of the round towards the end of the summer offering additional investors the opportunity to participate.
To learn more about General Fusion or to watch the founder’s TED Talk, go to www.generalfusion.com.