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Fusion startup Xcimer raises $100M to build huge laser

Illustration of an atom with a coin as the nucleus.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Fusion startup Xcimer Energy has raised a $100 million Series A round to build a prototype of its laser-driven fusion system.

Why it matters: There's growing momentum around nuclear fusion as the tech moves closer to commercialization and investors plow money into promising firms.

Driving the news: The round was led by London-based tech investor Hedosophia, which has been active in architecting SPACs over the past couple of years.

  • The funding also included a who's-who of climate tech VCs: Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Lowercarbon Capital, Prelude Ventures, Emerson Collective, Gigascale Capital and Starlight Ventures.
  • Xcimer co-founder and CTO Alexander Valys said the funding would be spent on engineering and hardware to build out a 100-foot-long, 60,000-square-foot laser prototype system that would "fill most of the inside of a warehouse in Denver."
  • The funding will also help Xcimer, founded in early 2022 and based in Denver, execute on its roadmap for a $9 million Department of Energy grant.

Catch up quick: Xcimer is developing a type of nuclear fusion tech called laser-driven inertial fusion, which uses a high-powered laser to compress nuclear fuel and kick off the fusion reaction.

  • Inertial fusion is an alternative, arguably overlooked approach to fusion. Many of the companies developing fusion systems use magnets to confine fusion plasma using designs like the tokamak.
  • Xcimer's co-founders, who were roommates at MIT, say the laser-driven inertial fusion systems can be simpler to design and have lower development and operating costs compared with the magnet-based fusion systems.
  • In late 2022, California's National Ignition Facility achieved fusion ignition and breakeven using a laser-based inertial fusion design.

The big picture: Researchers have been working on fusion tech for many decades, and it's not yet commercialized.

  • Yet the NIF breakthrough emerged at a time when there's also an insatiable demand for clean electricity driven by the combination of onshoring, the growth of EVs, and AI data centers.
  • Dozens of fusion firms have emerged and are in various stages of reaching their goals.
  • Companies like Microsoft and Nucor have even done deals to buy electricity from future fusion plants built by startup Helion.

What's next: Xcimer will eventually need to build the world's highest energy laser to build its planned commercial fusion reactor.

  • Xcimer says it has a goal to produce up to 10 times higher laser energy at 10 times higher efficiency and over 30 times lower cost per joule than the NIF project.
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