This week a startup focused on fusion power finished closing a $115 million Series A round. The final capital sum includes a few dozen million dollars it was known to have raised previously. The firm, Commonwealth Fusion Systems, is now capitalized far ahead of what its maturity in terms of venture rounds might normally indicate.
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We won’t pretend to understand the technology behind what Commonwealth is up to (some notes here, and more here), but the firm’s website is happily clear on what the company wants to do, saying that it will “accelerate the path to commercial fusion energy,” using “revolutionary superconducting magnet technology.”
Commonwealth, based in Cambridge, Mass. has a strong local connection. The firm was spun out of MIT and collaborates with MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center. The company was founded in 2017.
Commonwealth has an impressive list of backers, including Future Ventures, Khosla Ventures, Lowercase Capital, and others. France’s Breakthrough Energy Ventures, an aptly-named capital concern, led the round. What the startup is worth after its Series A wasn’t known by the time of publication.
In a press release, the company said it plans to use the new capital to “produce first-of-its-kind high temperature superconductor magnets to build smaller and lower-cost fusion power plants.” Commonwealth, in collaboration with MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center, plans to use the magnets to build what it describes as “the world’s first net energy gain fusion system” by 2025.
Future Ventures CEO Steve Jurvetson described Commonwealth’s work as “clever engineering” and said it was the first clean energy company in the fusion space that his firm believed was worth investing in after 20 years of looking.
A Little Context
Fusion energy is often the fodder of science-fiction novels, powering spaceships deep into the cosmos. Closer to home, the potential energy source for human use could help stem harmful, climate-impacting emissions from being released. Countries around the globe are determined to lower emissions generated from traditional fuels in hopes of preserving Earth’s climate as we know it; changes could lead to worse weather in many regions, making life more difficult and dangerous. Affordable fusion energy could prove a material ally in limiting our own impact on the ecosystem that every human not currently on the ISS lives in.
It’s always good to see technology jump from the page into the world. Or at least to see it try.
Discussing the round this morning, Crunchbase News’s Joanna Glasner noted that funding in the fusion sector, such as it is, isn’t impressive. While this $115 million Series A is itself a huge slug of capital, there aren’t a swarm of companies working on the problem as there are say, in self-driving car technology, or even more pedestrian, low-tech areas of the startup world like food delivery or ride-hailing.
Of course, bets like Commonwealth tend to have binary results, and therefore binary returns. But so what, what else is venture capital for than bets like this?
Illustration: Li-Anne Dias
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