作者:未知 来源:未知 2014-07-30 我要评论( )

Startup nuclear energy companies augur safer, cheaper atomic power


Nothing captures how fashionable the startup has become quite like crowdfunding. The craze for raising contributions via websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo is helping to launch companies from scooter manufacturers to lightbulb vendors to filmmakers.


Now, even nuclear fusion is game.


Yes, the Holy Grail of cheap, clean, safe, plentiful, low-carbon energy that has remained 40 years in the future since scientists proposed it over half a century ago has entered the crowdsourcing era. International government projects like ITER in France and the National Ignition Facility in California may have spent billions of dollars in pursuit of the technology, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be a little grassroots action, too.

核能由于具有廉价、清洁、安全、低碳、用之不竭的特点而被喻为能源中的“圣杯”。自从半个多世纪前,科学家们提出利用核能的设想以来,有40多年的时间里,核能在我们眼中似乎都是未来才能享受到的福利。如今这种“高大上”的能源也终于进入了众包时代。虽然有些核能项目动辄要花费几十亿美元,比如法国的国际热核实验反应堆(ITER)和美国加州的美国国家点火装置(National Ignition Facility),但是这并不意味着在核能领域就完全没有草根阶层可以施展拳脚的空间。

LPP Fusion, a tiny company based in Middlesex, N.J., launched in May an Indiegogo campaign to raise $200,000—loose change in this business—that it believes will help it reach a major fusion development milestone in a year and commercialize fusion reactors by 2020.

美国新泽西州米德尔塞克斯市的一家叫LPP Fusion的小公司今年五月在Indiegogo上发起了一项募集20万美金的活动。虽然20万美金在这个行业里微乎其微,但这家公司相信,这笔钱能帮助它在一年之内完成核聚变领域的一项具有里程碑意义的研究。这样,到2020年,它的研究成果就可以转化为核聚变反应堆。

LPP (it stands for “Lawrenceville Plasma Physics“) is representative of a new class of companies emerging to address the world’s energy crisis: Nuclear startups. Dozens of small new reactor companies are either chasing the elusive fusion dream or pursuing fission designs that trump those on the market today. All are promising to deliver a knock-out blow to the carbon-intensive fossil fuels that bedevil the world with environmental impact and volatile geopolitics and economics. Many of these innovative firms are positioning their reactors not just for electricity, but also to provide clean heat for high temperature industrial processes and for water desalination.


While LPP might be the only crowdfunded member of the group, it is determined like its young peers to shake up the staid nuclear industry. Reactor designs have not fundamentally changed since utilities first connected fission machines to the grid in the 1950s, marking a conservatism that has mired nuclear in the era of black-and-white television while colorful possibilities abound. The startups aim to brighten the palette.


For LPP, that would mean not only delivering fusion—melding atoms together rather than fission’s waste-creating process of splitting them apart—but it would also eliminate the time-honored need for costly turbines and generators. Nuclear power, including most fusion concepts, functions mechanically the same way fossil fuel plants do by creating heat to produce steam to drive a turbine. LPP is working on a type of fusion called “aneutronic” that emits charged particles for electricity.


“The nuclear industry is stuck using the same method for making electricity that utilities have used since the days of Thomas Edison—generate heat to make steam to drive a turbine and generator,” says Eric Lerner, president of LPP Fusion. “We can change all that. We can convert energy directly into electricity and slash costs.”

LPP Fusion公司总裁埃里克•勒那说:“核能行业的发电方法还停留在爱迪生那个时代——通过发热产生蒸汽来驱动汽轮机和发电机。而我们可以改变这一点,我们可以把能源直接转变为电能,同时大量削减成本。”

First, he’ll need the $200,000 he seeks on Indiegogo (he has until July 5 to raise it), which would buy him some fancy new beryllium electrodes that would withstand rigors far better than the copper variety that LPP has been using. He hopes to install them by the end of this year in his experimental fusion reactor, which Lerner operates at the Friendly Storage premises in Middlesex, a place otherwise full of surplus boxes and furniture.


Lerner is boldly confident that the beryllium would by the middle of next year enable his lab to overcome the problem that has vexed fusion projects forever: It would harness more energy out of its reactor than what goes into it. Additional financing might then rush in. LPP will need $50 million in total, virtually nothing next to the nearly $18 billion that ITER has budgeted for only the next 10 years of an expected 30 years of construction and development of a 20-story “tokamak” facility.


With the financing, Lerner believes that by 2020 he could license the mass-production of small $300,000-to-$500,000 fusion machines—each the size of a one-car garage—with a capacity of 5 megawatts, enough to power 3,000 houses.


If only he had the wherewithal of rival fusion startup Tri-Alpha Energy, which has rounded up over $140 million from Goldman Sachs, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and Russian state-owned company Rusnano, among others. Like LPP, Irvine, Calif.-based Tri-Alpha hopes to develop an aneutronic machine that delivers electricity without using turbines.

可惜LPP的后盾远远不及竞争对手Tri-Alpha能源公司。这家公司已经从高盛(Goldman Sachs)、微软(Microsoft)共同创始人保罗•艾伦、俄罗斯国有企业Rusnano等投资人处融到了1.4亿美元资金。像LPP一样,这家位于加州尔湾市的核能创业公司也希望开发出一台无中子核聚变发电机,从而不需要借助汽轮机也能发电。

ITER and NIF, the government groups, are taking a more “conventional” fusion approach, aspiring to drive turbines with heat released by fusing isotopes of hydrogen. (In contrast, an aneutronic process tends to fuse standard hydrogen and boron.) So, too, are a number of startups that believe they can crack fusion long before the big science projects do by developing smaller machines (NIF’s facility is 3 football fields long and 10 stories tall) and deploying different technologies.


“We liken it to the Human Genome Project or SpaceX, where large government programs were ultimately outrun by more nimble and more practical innovation in the private sector,” notes Nathan Gilliland, CEO of General Fusion near Vancouver, Canada. General Fusion has raised $32 million from sources including the Canadian oil company Cenovus and Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive.

总部位于加拿大温哥华附近的通用聚变(General Fusion)公司的CEO南森•吉利兰德指出:“我们可以把它与人类基因组计划或太空探索技术公司(Space X)做一下比较,因为在后两者的领域中,大型政府性项目最终也是被私人领域的更灵活、更实用的创新超越了。”通用聚变公司从加拿大石油公司Cenovus和亚马逊(Amazon)CEO杰夫•贝佐斯等投资人那里融得3200万美元资金。

As intriguing as fusion is, there is probably more startup activity in fission, where novel approaches promise great improvements over the industry’s addiction to fissioning solid uranium fuel rods then cooling and moderating them with water.


A host of startups are experimenting with different approaches including the use of liquid fuel, the use of solid fuel with different shapes (such as bricks or pebbles), and the use of alternative coolants and moderators such as salts and gases. Many of the designs draw on ideas that politics suppressed decades ago. Some, like Bill Gates-chaired TerraPower in Bellevue, Wash., are designing “fast reactors” that don’t moderate neutrons. Some envision using the element thorium instead of uranium.


Between them, they portend leaps in safety, cut way down on nuclear waste, use “waste” as fuel, minimize weapons proliferation risks, slash costs and tremendously boost efficiencies. Many fit the “small modular” form that enables mass production and affordable incremental power. (Oregon startup NuScale Power recently secured $217 million in federal funds to develop a small but comparatively conventional reactor.)


“There is a growing market pull for innovation in the nuclear space, so you’re beginning to see a blossoming of startup companies doing different things in nuclear,” says Simon Irish, CEO of startup Terrestrial Energy, Mississauga, Canada, which is developing a “molten salt” reactor (MSR) based on liquid fuel.

加拿大米西索加市创业公司Terrestrial Energy的CEO西蒙•艾里什指出:“市场对核能领域创新的拉动力越来越强。所以我们开始看到,很多在核能领域从事不同研究的创业公司如雨后春笋般涌现出来。”艾里什的公司正在研发一种基于液态燃料的“熔盐”反应堆(MSA)。

In the U.S., Russ Wilcox, CEO of Cambridge, Mass.-based MSR developer Transatomic Power, implores the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to broaden its focus beyond conventional reactor safety, which he says “freezes progress.”

在美国,总部位于马萨诸塞州剑桥市的MSR开发公司Transatomic Power首席执行官拉斯•威尔克斯正在请求美国核管理委员会(the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission)放宽对传统核反应域安全的限制,称这种限制“冻结了进步”。

Many observers believe that countries other than the U.S., such as Canada and China, will deploy first. Beijing is funding innovative Chinese fission projects, with collaboration from the U.S. DOE. Meanwhile, Western companies seek funds. Like Cenovus at General Fusion, more oil companies might pony up, because they want clean heat to process petroleum. As Fortune reported last month, a lack of industry funding appears to have slowed progress in DOE’s mission to develop an advanced reactor.


LPP Fusion doesn’t seem to be worried. For the young company, the next financing stage could simply be a matter of warming up the crowd.



vendor ['vendɔ:]
n. 卖主;小贩;[贸易] 自动售货机

fusion ['fju:ʒən]
n. 融合;熔化;熔接;融合物

desalination [di:,sæli'neiʃən]
n. 脱盐作用;减少盐分

turbine ['tə:bain, -bin]
n. [动力] 涡轮;[动力] 涡轮机

envision [in'viʒən]
vt. 想象;预想






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