Meet Renaissance Fusion, a Grenoble-based startup that has been working on nuclear fusion for the past two years. The company recently raised $16.4 million (€15 million) in funding in a seed round led by Lower Carbon Capital.
Several European investors such as HCVC, Positron Ventures and Norssken also participated in the round.
“We are proud to support Francesco Volpe and his team in France and in Europe with a disruptive solution in energy production and distribution technologies. Grenoble is a very strategic location for the development of nuclear energy, allowing them to benefit from a strong ecosystem like CEA and an unrivaled talent pool.” Alexis Hsu, Founder and Managing Partner of HCVC, said in a statement.
Unlike most nuclear fusion experiments based on tokamaks, Renaissance Fusion is working on a stellarator reactor. In the year The company is well aware of the long and windy road ahead as it expects to ship a small nuclear fusion reactor with a capacity of 1 GW in the 2030s. It does not run power plants directly. Instead, the company sells reactors to plant builders and operators.
“We have a very unique technology,” Renaissance Fusion founder Francesco Volpe told me. Instead of designing complex three-dimensional coils to create a magnetic field, Renaissance Fusion greatly simplifies this process by drawing traces on a cylinder.
After some calculations based on the magnetic field they want to generate, the team can determine the shape of the coil they want. The cylinder rotates around an axis as it moves left and right to laser engrave tracks on the surface of the cylinder.
The cylinder blocks are then joined together to form a reactor. This modularity should help when it comes to shipping and logistics. As for the neutrons released by a nuclear reaction in a cylinder, Renaissance Fusion uses liquid lithium to create thick walls that separate the plasma from the outside world.
“We put liquid metal in it. It flows through the inside of the cylinder and then out the bottom. It’s thick enough to absorb most of the neutrons,” Volpe said.
This liquid metal is used to extract heat from the stellarator, which is used to generate steam, which is used to drive turbines, which can generate electricity.
According to the startup’s founder, Renaissance Fusion is very innovative in its use of liquid metal. “We’re the only one in the commercial synthesis where liquid lithium interacts with plasma,” Volpe said.
Currently, the company can create 1 cm thick walls based on liquid lithium. It requires several iterations before it can be used in nuclear fusion. Renaissance fusion estimates it needs 30 to 40 centimeters of thickness.
The company is already thinking about commercial applications that could be released before the 2030s. For example, Volpe believes Renaissance Fusion’s coil patterning technology could be used for MRI and energy storage. “Whenever you need a strong magnetic field, large size and high precision,” he said.
With today’s funding round, Renaissance Fusion plans to triple its team size to 60 people by the end of 2023. In many ways, this is still the early days of renaissance integration. So let’s see how it will happen in the coming years.