Munich-based Proxima Fusion, a startup designing fusion power plants based on the stellarator concept, announced on Tuesday, that it has raised €7M in a pre-seed round of funding.
Jorrit Lion, co-founder of Proxima and an expert in the modelling of stellarator power plants, says, “We are building on decades of visionary investment by the German government in stellarator technology.”
“It is this investment that created the opportunity for Proxima to be a European champion for fusion. Now, it is up to us to bring fusion energy to the grid.”
Investors supporting Proxima
Ian Hogarth of Plural, says, “Stellarators offer the most robust and clearest path to fusion energy. The Proxima team has the energy and the speed that we need. They are ecosystem players, with a thrilling sense of ambition building on top of the Wendelstein 7-X stellarator – a masterpiece of German leadership.”
Benjamin Erhart, General Partner at UVC Partners, adds, “In the coming years, the energy issue will be one of our most existential ones. We already know today that we need a clever mix of different energy sources.”
“Proxima’s efforts for fusion leverage the massive investment made on stellarators in Germany. We are convinced that the team is ready to change the picture – for the world, and particularly for Germany and Europe, which are in urgent need of reliable sources beyond wind and solar.”
What are Tokamaks and stellarators?
According to Proxima Fusion, fusion is the process that powers the stars. Magnetic fields can be used to confine high-energy ionised materials, known as “plasma”. Tokamaks and stellarators are two techniques that do this by enclosing a magnetic “cage” in doughnut-shaped structures.
Stellarators use a complicated series of electromagnets outside of the plasma, whereas tokamaks combine external electromagnets with a huge current within the plasma, simplifying the overall design but introducing considerable control issues.
Modern magnetic confinement systems can frequently achieve plasma temperatures of more than 100 million degrees – 10 times the temperature of the Sun’s core.
For decades, researchers in this field have been driven by the possibility of using fusion as a safe, clean, and plentiful energy source.
Designing optimised stellarator fusion reactors
The Wendelstein 7-X (W7-X) stellarator from IPP, which Proxima Fusion claims is the most advanced stellarator in the world, is the foundation of the company’s project.
Stellarators have appealing properties for a fusion power plant while being more intricately designed than tokamaks: they can run in a stable state with less operational issues and offer an “attractive” way to regulate excessive heat loads on material surfaces.
However, stellarators have had significant problems for a long time, including poor plasma confinement at high temperatures, significant losses of fusion products, difficult construction tolerances, etc.
Francesco Sciortino, a co-founder of Proxima Fusion, says, “Experimental progress from W7-X and recent advances in stellarator modeling have radically changed the picture. Stellarators can now remedy the key problems of tokamaks and truly scale up, radically improving the stability of the plasma and reaching high performance in a steady state.”
For fusion to occur, plasmas must fulfil three conditions: adequate temperature, density, and time. These elements combine to form the Lawson criteria, sometimes known as the “triple product”.
In the past, the “triple product” has been used to measure the effectiveness of fusion devices. However, the engineering and economic feasibility of a fusion idea for power plants is not well-expressed in the triple product.
Since 2015, W7-X has been catching up with the most advanced tokamaks. The February 2023 energy turnaround record set by W7-X, which is calculated by multiplying the total heating power by the length of the experiment, is only the most recent example of how stellarators like W7-X perform in a variety of critical areas.
Martin Kubie, another co-founder of Proxima Fusion, adds, “Fusion is the challenge of our time. Our task will be to make it a commercial reality. Over the next 12 months, in collaboration with its academic and industry partners, Proxima will focus on completing its initial fusion power plant design.”
About Proxima Fusion
Proxima Fusion believes that fusion has the potential to provide clean, abundant and safe energy. In order to create power plants, the fusion energy startup is, therefore, attempting to improve stellarators, which create magnetic cages for high-energy particles.
The most advanced stellarator on the planet, W7-X, was created and is run by the Max Planck Society Institute for Plasma Physics, which also founded and manages Proxima.
Former Max Planck IPP, MIT, and Google-X scientists and engineers founded the company. Founders include Jorrit Lion, Lucio Milanese, Francesco Sciortino and Martin Kubie.
The development of a new fusion ecosystem in Europe is being sparked by Proxima Fusion’s W7-X, which is the only continuous-operation fusion design to achieve high performance.
The company is now competing in the race for fusion energy to transform stellarators into commercially viable fusion power plants.
Over the next few years, Proxima Fusion plans to deploy a new high-performance stellarator. Its roadmap calls for the construction of the world’s first fusion power plant by the 2030s.