TRI ALPHA ENERGY:  MONEY BY MILESTONE

Tri Alpha Energy is the world’s largest private fusion company.  Its purpose is to develop commercially competitive clean fusion energy as fast as possible.  Tri Alpha Energy’s unique approach will provide a virtually unlimited supply of baseload electricity from power plants that are carbon-free, safe and sustainable.

Tri Alpha Energy has been privately funded from its inception by some of the world’s leading energy and technology investors. This diversified group of first tier global investors has provided nearly $500 million (mm) of capital to date. Their interest stems from belief in the world-changing promise of fusion-powered electricity and conviction that Tri Alpha Energy has the most promising approach to deliver it.

The company’s distinguishing “money by milestone” venture capital mindset and fast cycle learning capability have driven disciplined, steady progress.  Tri Alpha Energy is well along the path to validating its science and engineering integration and is preparing to deliver its next milestone.

EARLY TECHNICAL DEVELOPMENT

In the early 1990’s, at the University of California Irvine (UCI), Professor Norman Rostoker, together with his student Michl Binderbauer, began focusing on the need for an applied approach to fusion research.

Starting with the “end in mind” of a commercially competitive fusion power plant, they examined what a customer would want and how it could be delivered.  With the help of University of Florida Professor Hendrik Monkhorst, they came up with a fusion technology which:

  • Uses advanced hydrogen-boron fuel cycles to largely remove neutron generation (aneutronic), thus facilitating easier engineering and a safe environmental profile supporting a simpler regulatory framework than neutronic approaches.
  • Is compact and energy efficient (high beta), thus yielding a practical power plant size of 200-500 megawatts.
  • Is economically competitive compared to other power technologies and, unlike renewables such as wind and solar, provides continuous baseload power generation.

Their approach was based on a unique combination of advanced particle accelerator and plasma physics. That is, they explored how to take the proven long-lived charged particle confinement technology of the world’s particle accelerators (such as those at the European research organization CERN) and integrate that with a well-understood plasma physics approach called field-reversed configuration (FRC).  This was the core invention of Tri Alpha Energy.

The initial research led to a partnership between the researcher universities and Tri Alpha Energy. Upon the formation of Tri Alpha Energy, UCI’s technology transfer office, with contributions from the University of Florida, formalized licensing arrangements with Tri Alpha Energy.  The strong relationship with UCI continues today in partnership with its office of Applied Innovation.

Tri Alpha Energy has continued over the last 20 years to build on this early technology foundation with further evolution of the compact, advanced beam-driven field-reversed configuration approach.  The company has focused on proof of science as well as engineering integration to ultimately deliver a commercially competitive technology.  To date, this has resulted in an ever-increasing portfolio of patents with over 500 applications and over 350 granted patents worldwide.

EARLIEST COMPANY HISTORY

Tri Alpha Energy was founded in 1998 with a clear goal in mind from the start:  commercially competitive fusion-powered electricity. Nobel Laureate Glenn Seaborg championed the fusion technology pioneered by Dr. Norman Rostoker at UCI to a visionary group who formed the company: experienced businessman George Sealy, actor and environmentalist Harry Hamlin, and biotech entrepreneur Andrew Conrad.

Sealy had knowledge regarding funding and building companies and was Tri Alpha Energy’s first CEO. Hamlin had a passion for aneutronic fusion and served as corporate Secretary, a position he holds to this day.  Conrad had the licensing knowledge to assist with UCI and became COO and CFO.

This group organized the founding board adding Seaborg, Allen Puckett of Hughes Aircraft, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, writer/producer Frank Braun, and businessman Gerry Simmons.  This early board provided the first seed capital and organized the earliest patent work.

This initial group was augmented in those foundational years when James Valentine joined as President, and Valentine, Mike Buchanan and James McNiel joined the Board. Each of these additions was critical to the early fundraising of the Company.

SPEEDING THE PATH TO FUSION: FAST CYCLE LEARNING

  • Rapid experimentation – Tri Alpha Energy has done over 50,000 experiments to date.  Its design of experiments inherently enables exceptionally rapid learning.  This is a substantial advantage because it allows testing of more hypotheses, helps refine experiments and leads to faster optimization of machine performance.  Tri Alpha Energy acquires data from over 60 state of the art diagnostics, and applies sophisticated analytics to its vast data sets to allow quick refinements and identify new directions.  A fast path to fusion is intrinsically linked with the ability to run many experiments per day together with an expansive set of diagnostics.
  • Operational agility – Engineers and physicists work together to quickly reflect experimental learning.  Teams of world class experts supporting 15 engineering sub-systems such as power supply or plasma control are able to rapidly design and implement machine and operational changes, often in just hours rather than days.  This facilitates more experimentation and faster validation.
  • Fast learning culture – Tri Alpha Energy’s entrepreneurial environment is marked by a flat organization structure and intense inquisitiveness with ideas coming from every person on the team.  The “fail fast” ethic encourages stretching to quickly test new hypotheses to support rapid learning.

The money by milestone approach has been supported by Tri Alpha Energy’s unique fast cycle learning capability that affords it unparalleled speed and agility.  This has enabled Tri Alpha Energy to accelerate performance to meet or beat milestone schedules through rapid experimentation, operational agility and a fast learning culture.  For example, Tri Alpha Energy’s C-2U milestone was delivered with unprecedented speed, requiring just nine months from the start of extensive hardware upgrades to demonstrated results on a national lab-scale device.

TRI ALPHA ENERGY'S BOARD, MANAGEMENT AND SCIENCE PANEL

As is common with venture-backed companies, many of Tri Alpha Energy’s investors have served or continue to serve on the Board of Directors.  Tri Alpha Energy has a deeply experienced board that is actively involved in overseeing the company.  In addition to investors Art Samberg, Mike Buchanan, Ray Rothrock and Dick Kramlich, directors also include John Mack (former CEO-Morgan Stanley), Dr. Richard Meserve (former Nuclear Regulatory Commission chair, President Emeritus-Carnegie Institution for Science), Anatoly Chubais, Chairman of the Executive Board-Rusnano Corporation, and Tri Alpha Energy CEO Dr. Steven Specker.

Tri Alpha Energy’s management team brings great venture and technical depth.  CEO Steve Specker brings deep business, energy industry and leadership experience spanning over 40 years.  Chief Technology Officer Dr. Michl Binderbauer is the architect of Tri Alpha Energy’s research and development program and is a co-inventor of many of the company’s technological advancements.  Other leaders bring similar depth of experience and results.

As a governance function and to help with technology development, Tri Alpha Energy organized an illustrious group of physicists to serve on a Science Advisory Panel with the help of Nobel Laureate Arno Penzias.  The panel, established in 2006, is an independent body of Nobel Laureates, Maxwell Prize Winners, National Academy Members and other pre-eminent experts in the physics and engineering communities. The Panel audits Tri Alpha Energy science, technology, progress and plans semi-annually.  They provide a thorough scientific and technical audit of all aspects of technology development.  The panel recently completed its 21st audit of Tri Alpha Energy’s results.

As investor Ray Rothrock said in his article “What’s the Big Idea” (Issues in Science and Technology, Winter 2016), Tri Alpha Energy has benefited greatly from the venture capital mindset.  “Being privately backed, Tri Alpha also has a board of directors and investor group that is focused on making [fusion power] a reality – the sooner the better.  The operational focus and shared decision making between the board and the company management is a model for successful deployment of big dollars over a long time with minimal waste or disagreement.  This relationship, experience and result, in my opinion, make Tri Alpha one of the best cases from the annals of venture investing.”