01 Aug 2023
Silicon Valley startup co-founded by Nobel laureate Shuji Nakamura aims to build a 'commercial-ready' fusion reactor by 2030.
Blue Laser Fusion (BLF), a startup firm in Palo Alto, California, says it has raised $25 million in an initial round of seed funding supporting its particular approach to laser-based fusion.
Co-founded by CEO Shuji Nakamura, who won a share of the 2014 Nobel Prize for Physics for the development of gallium nitride (GaN) blue LEDs, the company claims to have developed a novel approach capable of achieving laser fusion energy generation for power grids.
Investors include two top-tier venture capitalists in Japan, in the form of JAFCO Group Co., Ltd., and SPARX Group Co., Ltd (via the Toyota-backed Mirai Creation Fund III).
Nakamura, a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), founded the company last year alongside Hiroaki Ohta from Waseda University Ventures (WUV), and Richard Ogawa, an attorney based in Silicon Valley.
The funding for BLF comes less than a month after EX-Fusion, another Japanese company targeting laser fusion for energy, raised $13 million, while other startups have gained US Department of Energy support for pilot schemes.
BLF has revealed little about its patent-pending technology, except that it utilizes megajoule-scale pulses with a fast repetition rate, but believes it will be able to build a viable reactor within seven years.
“BLF plans to complete its first prototype in 2025, and then demonstrate a commercial-ready fusion reactor by 2030,” announced the company.
One thing that BLF has revealed is that it plans to use a hydrogen-boron fuel known as ‘HB11’ as a fusion target, not the deuterium-tritium material used in the landmark National Ignition Facility (NIF) experiment that confirmed the possibility of energy gain with laser inertial confinement fusion.
“The HB11 fuel is not radioactive, is free from harmful neutrons, yields safe helium elements, and is a naturally abundant mineral,” stated Ohta, the firm’s CTO. “HB11 is the perfect fuel for fusion and has no harmful neutron or tritium elements.
“We are pleased to be working with our group of world's top scientists and experts to not only ignite a fusion reaction with HB11 but maintain the reaction to create clean renewable energy.
Nakamura claimed: “Blue Laser Fusion has the best fusion technology in my view to achieve commercial fusion by 2030. I am so excited with our opportunity and the support. I have always looked for ways to help change the world and save our planet from carbon.”
The funding package will be used to expand the firm’s research and development activity in the Santa Barbara area, and in Tokyo, where it plans to develop the prototype commercial reactor.
“Fusion is the ultimate energy source, and its successful commercialization will be a huge leap towards achieving clean and abundant energy for everyone,” added Keisuke Miyoshi, the president and CEO of JAFCO.
“Advances in laser inertial technology, including Blue Laser Fusion's ability to execute the next generation of laser technology, provide the basis for a very exciting and promising path to the ultimate sustainable energy source.”
Nakamura, who famously sued his former employer Nichia before co-founding the UCSB blue laser spin-out Soraa, reportedly told the Japanese business publication Nikkei that BLF would be working with Toshiba and YUKI Holdings on the reactor development.
Using HB11 fuel offers a key advantage for laser fusion in principle, since no neutrons are produced in the fusion reaction. Protecting optical components and other key parts of the system from high-energy neutron bombardment proved to be a major challenge during the NIF experiments, and would likely lead to high costs of protecting and replacing parts in a similar commercial system.
Nikkei says that around ten startup companies are currently working on laser fusion, with Australia’s HB11 Energy also aiming to use the novel hydrogen-boron fuel.