Renaissance Fusion, a French startup developing nuclear fusion technology, has raised a €15m seed round led by US climate tech VC Lowercarbon Capital at an undisclosed valuation.
Nuclear fusion — the process that powers the sun — could be instrumental in the global transition to green energy. It has the potential to create the same amount of energy as nuclear fission (the “old” kind of nuclear energy) while creating vastly less radioactive waste.
And it’s seen a big breakthrough recently: in December last year, US researchers announced they’d created a fusion reaction that produced more energy than it took to make for the first time.
Renaissance Fusion, founded in 2020, is currently focused on developing parts which can be used in nuclear fusion reactors.
One is liquid metal, which sticks to the inner walls of the nuclear fusion reaction chamber, insulating the walls from extreme heat and radioactivity and lowering maintenance costs.
The startup is also building high-temperature superconducting coils. These generate strong magnetic fields, allowing a smaller reactor to achieve the same performance as a larger one.
The seed funding will be used to triple Renaissance Fusion’s workforce to 60. It’ll also buy the equipment it needs to facilitate R&D and conduct its first experiments on the way to commercialising the technology.
Renaissance Fusion is currently pre-revenue, and plans to begin selling both technologies towards the end of 2024. But interestingly, not to the fusion market.
With very minor modifications, both pieces of technology can be applied to other industries that require strong magnetic fields — like medical imaging and energy storage, says founder Francesco Volpe.
It’s a way of ensuring the company can generate revenue before nuclear fusion power plants become commercially viable, he says; Volpe reckons that will happen sometime in the 2030s.
Alongside Lowercarbon Capital, European investors including HCVC, Positron Ventures and Norrsken also participated.
The nuclear fusion market
While nuclear fusion startups raised $3.3bn across 2021 and 2022 — roughly three times what was raised across the previous decade — the most well-financed startups are based in the US.
Massachusetts-based Commonwealth Fusion Systems raised $1.8bn towards the end 2021 and Washington’s Helion Energy picked up $500m around the same time. In Europe, the most-moneyed startups are Tokamak Energy, which has raised $100m since launching in 2009, and First Light Fusion, which has raised $101m in the past decade.
Is Europe the best place for a nuclear fusion startup?
While an increasing number of European startups are convincing investors to part with their cash, there’s concern that the region isn’t moving fast enough on the R&D needed to commercialise the technology.
Earlier this month, ITER — an international consortium based in France that’s looking to prove the feasibility of fusion — announced its project could be delayed by years. It’s a stark comparison to the breakthrough achieved by US researchers less than a month earlier.
“Europe’s delay on fusion is a scandal… while European decision-makers are still arguing over the ‘green taxonomy’ of whether nuclear power is clean energy, US actors are working to make it greener,” says André Loesekrug-Pietri, president of the Joint European Disruptive Initiative.
The US market is also an increasingly attractive prospect for European startups. Yesterday, it was reported that Marvel Fusion — a German startup that raised one of Europe’s largest rounds in the sector, a €35m Series A — is facing pressure from investors to move to the US. That’s partly because of the $1.4bn set aside by the US government for its domestic fusion industry.
But there are some major positives to being a nuclear fusion startup in Europe, says Volpe. The proximity to top talent in the fusion sector is one; according to him 40% of the global fusion workforce work in continental Europe.
The well-developed nuclear ecosystem that Europe has built up over the years is another big plus. “That includes suppliers that have worked for large public fusion experiments and could work with private fusion,” he says.
Kai Nicol-Schwarz is a reporter at Sifted. He tweets from @NicolSchwarzK.