Helion Energy takes in $10.6M for fusion energy

Seattle Times Rachel Lerman July 7, 2015

Redmond-based Helion Energy has raised $10.6 million, according to a filing, to build a fusion engine that would create power.

Helion Energy has raised $10.6 million in a new funding round to develop technology that aims to create a fusion reactor to generate power.

The company disclosed the funds in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Helion plans to raise more than $21 million total in the continuing round.

Redmond-based Helion had previously received $5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy and raised a $1.5 million round in August 2014 from Y Combinator and Mithril Capital Management.

The company declined to comment on the latest funding round.

Helion is creating technology it calls “The Fusion Engine,” which would use helium from engine exhaust, according to the company’s website. The helium, along with deuterium fuel from seawater, would be heated to become plasma and then compressed with magnetic fields to reach fusion temperature, which is more than 100 million degrees.

As concerns about climate change increase, fusion energy has become an area of serious interest for technology entrepreneurs.

Fusion energy is the “perfect energy resource” to power homes and buildings, said Thomas Jarboe, a University of Washington professor of aeronautics and astronautics and an adjunct professor physics. He conducts controlled-fusion research.

The idea is that fusion energy would eventually replace coal. Although nuclear fusion is a controversial topic, experts say it is safer and cleaner than current power sources.

“When you burn coal, you put greenhouse gases into the atmosphere that contribute to global warming and we would like to get rid of that,” Jarboe said. “It would be cleaner than coal, and it can be cheaper.”

Startups have sprung up across the world to tackle how to create and control fusion power, and Puget Sound-area tech leaders are getting on board.

Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos’ personal investment company, Bezos Expeditions, has backed General Fusion in British Columbia. Paul Allen’s Vulcan Capital has put money behind Irvine, Calif.-based Tri-Alpha Energy. Bill Gates has invested in a nuclear company called TerraPower.

A large, international government-backed effort to build a fusion reactor is playing out in France.

Many believe the world is at least decades away from fusion power, but Helion Energy executives have said the company could build a useful reactor in the next three years.

“It’s a topic that every time they walk in a room, eyes roll,” said Tom Ranken, president and CEO of the CleanTech Alliance. “But these guys start talking and they are very, very sharp and have a unique approach and are very credible. … It’s a pretty far out there concept but they’re making very solid progress.”

Ranken has seen Helion’s working fusion machine, as have many public figures.

“All come back awe-struck at what they’re trying to do,” Ranken said.

Most of the fusion-energy businesses are approaching creating fusion power in slightly different ways.

“The way you learn is to try new things,” Jarboe said. “You don’t get breakthroughs by trying what you know won’t work.”