The start of the year has seen some significant public and private financing for advanced nuclear development projects. The US Department of Energy will co-finance two projects, and Terrestrial Energy completed a Series A funding round. These kind of public-private partnerships and private investor support are crucial in the commercialization of new promising technologies. Will these big-name investors spur further funding to advanced reactor development and Thorium Energy in particular?
The US Department of Energy (DOE) selected two advanced reactor development projects to receive funding of up to USD 80 million over several years through a cost-share program. The two projects are X-energy's Xe-100 Pebble Bed Advanced Reactor and Southern Company Services' Molten Chloride Fast Reactor (MCFR). The development grant includes USD 6 million in 2016 for each company, which is to be supplemented with additional funding from private investors.
There are some big-name public and private investors supporting advanced reactor designs, capable of using thorium as fuel.
The DOE awards are an example of the public-private partnerships envisioned under the DOE's Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) initiative, announced in November 2015, to provide the nuclear energy community access to technical, regulatory and financial support to accelerate the commercialization of new and advanced reactor designs.
"My vision in founding X-energy was to develop a clean-energy solution that significantly improves global quality of life. Today, we have taken a giant step towards that dream. I am incredibly proud of the X-energy team, and we look forward to a productive collaboration with the Department of Energy." says Dr. Kam Ghaffarian, X-energy CEO.
X-energy is a cutting edge nuclear engineering company with a vision of making a significant contribution to the fight against carbon emissions and climate change by promoting clean and affordable nuclear energy. To fulfill its vision, X-energy is designing the Xe-100, a high temperature gas-cooled pebble-bed nuclear reactor. The unique properties of pebble bed reactors will allow the Xe-100 to provide clean, reliable nuclear power to entirely new markets. X-energy sees an extensive government and civilian market for the Xe-100: the Xe-100’s small footprint and ultra-safe design allow operation close to population centers, and it is also suited for installation at geographically-constrained sites.
X-energy is working in partnership with BWX Technology, Oregon State University, Teledyne-Brown Engineering, SGL Group, Idaho National Laboratory, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. According to the DOE, the next-generation reactor's advanced safety features and smaller size than traditional nuclear reactors would potentially enable it to serve a wider array of communities - particularly densely populated areas - while ensuring public safety. X-energy said that the funding will focus on technology development, including core modelling, fuel fabrication and Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) outreach.
"Our Xe-100 pebble bed HTGR builds upon the Department of Energy's significant investment in TRISO fuel technology under the Next Generation Nuclear Plant/Advanced Gas Reactor Programs. X-energy's internal investments, coupled with this funding, position the Xe-100 among the most promising advanced reactors under development today. We are thrilled that the DOE recognizes the Xe-100's advantages: a clean, affordable, secure design with electrical generation and industrial process steam capabilities. This development funding will help shrink our carbon footprint and revive America's leadership in this critical technology." says Harlan Bowers, X-energy President.
The Thorium Energy Report published in March 2015 covered X-energy along with other Thorium Energy developers. In the report the company disclosed that ‘The Xe-100 is being designed specifically to accommodate a variety of fuel types without design changes. Thorium is the primary fuel X-energy intends to pursue for future use in the Xe-100. X-energy firmly believes that thorium represents the most promising path forward to a sustainable energy future. Thorium is more abundant in the Earth’s crust than uranium, and the radioactive decay curve is much more favorable. These factors align thorium with X-energy’s goal of creating safer and more responsible nuclear power through the entire cycle of plant construction, operation, and decommissioning. Following successful commercialization of the first Xe-100 reactors using uranium oxycarbide (UCO) fuel in the mid-2020s, X-energy intends to develop thorium as the primary fuel for the Xe-100.’
Southern Company Services, a subsidiary of Southern Company, is developing the Molten Chloride Fast Reactor (MCFR) in partnership with TerraPower, Electric Power Research Institute, Vanderbilt University, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The funding will be used to perform integrated effects tests and materials suitability studies to support reactor development.
TerraPower has been developing its traveling wave reactor concept for years. In October 2015, the company announced that it is also looking into a chloride fast reactor design, which now received funding through co-operation with Southern Company Services. TerraPower is backed by some big-name investors such as Bill Gates,Khosla Ventures, Mukesh Ambani, Charles River Ventures andIntellectual Ventures.
In addition to the DOE grants, there was a recent round of private investment into advanced reactors. Terrestrial Energy, an advanced nuclear technology company planning to bring its Integral Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR) technology to industrial markets in the 2020s, raised CAD 10 million in Series A funding in the beginning of January from undisclosed investors.
“Funds will be used to support the Company’s pre-construction and pre-licensing engineering, and to support further engagement with industry and nuclear regulators,” said Simon Irish, CEO, Terrestrial Energy. “These programs allow the Company to demonstrate to industry the commercial merits of the IMSR design.”
“Market need has never been greater for true game-changing energy innovation. Nuclear power is recognized as probably the only energy technology today that has the scale to displace polluting energy sources without sacrificing cost-competitiveness and perpetuating energy poverty for billions. As this drives the emerging ground-swell of support for advanced nuclear technology, Terrestrial Energy is at the forefront with its IMSR technology and its dedicated and capable management team.” says James Reinsch, Terrestrial Energy investor, former President of Bechtel Nuclear and member of the Board of Directors of two large nuclear power utilities.
Another advanced reactor company, Transatomic Power, secured some serious private funding in the beginning of last year. The company raised an additional $2.5 million in an oversubscribed round from Acadia Woods Partners, Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, and Daniel Aegerter of Armada Investment AG. This round followed a USD 2 million raised from FF Science, an investment vehicle of Founders Fund, in July 2014.
In conclusion, there are some big-name public and private investors supporting advanced reactor designs, capable of using thorium as fuel. As most developers of Thorium Energy have stated to us, money is the primary obstacle for them to reach their goals, along with regulatory hurdles. Benjamin Soon concluded in his interview at ThEC15 in Mumbai ‘It’s really really about money. Investors and governments who would invest in a technology, don’t generally understand the technology, they lack awareness. And because of that nobody is really willing to put money forward, and everybody is waiting for somebody else to go first.’ Hopefully these initial investments from respected sources will spur further support and cooperation from governments and investors around the world to develop Thorium Energy.
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