Friday, April 19, 2024

Wisconsin has quietly become a hotbed of fusion power startups. Will it last?

Time for some quick word association: When you think of Wisconsin, what comes to mind?

Probably not nuclear fusion.

And yet in the last few years, America’s Dairyland has become a hotbed of fusion startups. With three that are publicly known, only the Seattle area has more. Last week alone, two received millions in grants from the Department of Energy, one of which announced a $9 million seed round.

The secret behind the state’s recent success isn’t so secret: University research programs that have been quietly cranking away for decades are now seeing the fruits of their labor emerge from the lab. Just like Silicon Valley has in Stanford and Cambridge, Massachusetts, has in MIT, Wisconsin has UW-Madison. The capital city is poised to become a key player in an industry that, if all goes well, promises to rewrite everything from energy to manufacturing, chemical refining and even space travel.

For energy, the opportunity is obvious: potentially massive amounts of power fueled by relatively minuscule volumes of hydrogen isotopes. The heat generated when those isotopes fuse would be harvested, most likely by steam turbines, the same technology that pretty much every major power plant relies on today. The electricity could be generated day and night, providing a carbon-free, meltdown-free source of so-called baseload power.

That heat could also be used in industrial facilities, too. Realta Fusion, which announced its $9 million seed round last week, is betting that its design for a fusion power plant will be sufficiently modular to fit in a range of industrial settings, including chemical refineries.

Wisconsin has quietly become a hotbed of fusion power startups. Will it last? by Tim De Chant originally published on TechCrunch

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