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Israeli startup hopes to take nuclear fusion mainstream

Israeli startup nT-Tao has been researching nuclear fusion since 2016
  • nT-Tao is Middle East’s first nuclear fusion company
  • CEO wants to attract investment from GCC
  • Energy ‘holy grail’ has won $4.7bn of private funding

This week US scientists announced they had achieved net energy gain in a fusion reaction for the second time since December.

The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California deemed the successful experiment “a major scientific breakthrough decades in the making that will pave the way for advancements in national defence and the future of clean power”.

Nuclear fusion is considered the “holy grail” of energy, and following this week’s breakthrough, a retired rear admiral of the Israel Defence Forces is hoping his startup can take the technology into the mainstream.

“We’re at a stage where the demand for energy is exponentially growing and exponential growth and demand need exponential solutions,” Oded Gour Lavie, CEO of nT-Tao told AGBI.

nT-Tao is Israel and the Middle East’s first nuclear fusion company.

Fusion could generate four times more energy per kilogram of fuel than nuclear fission and nearly four million times more energy than burning oil or coal, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The process merges atoms together and has the potential to produce an endless supply of clean energy.

Unlike nuclear fission, which is used in nuclear power plants and creates energy by splitting atoms, fusion does not come with the radioactive byproducts of nuclear power or the associated risks. 

Its fuel, heavy hydrogen atoms, is readily available in the simple form of seawater, with no need to mine for uranium.

The National Ignition Facility in California where a successful nuclear fusion experiment took placeAbaca via Reuters Connect
The National Ignition Facility in California where a successful nuclear fusion experiment took place

Gour Lavie founded nT-Tao seven years ago, alongside chief scientist Doron Weinfeld and chief technology officer Boaz Weinfeld. It is one of more than 40 private startups globally hoping to build a commercial fusion reactor.

The system under development by nT-Tao is the size of a shipping container and can generate up to 25MW of energy, the equivalent of powering more than 10,000 homes.

“I think this is a huge endeavour,” said Gour Lavie. “We’re trying to solve one of the biggest problems in the world and doing very fast R&D (research and development).”

Fusion companies have declared over $4.7 billion of private funding, according to a 2022 report from the Fusion Industry Association, plus an additional $117 million in grants and other funding from governments.

Earlier this year nT-Tao completed a Series A round led by publicly traded energy company Delek US Holdings and Israel’s NextGear Ventures.

OurCrowd, the Grantham Foundation and Honda Motor Co also participated in the round, which raised $28 million.

“Honda believes that fusion energy technology will be a breakthrough technology for affordable, stable, clean energy, and we envision this technology will become increasingly important as electrified vehicles become more popular,” said Shinji Aoyama, director and senior managing executive officer of Honda.

Gour Lavie said the next round of funding could raise $200 million.

Based in the Tel Aviv suburb of Hod Hasharon, nT-Tao began collaborating with Princeton University and the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, a US Department of Energy facility at the New Jersey campus, in May. The company also works with scientists in Israel, the UK and Japan.

Gour Lavie wants to attract interest from the wider Middle East region.

“There’s no reason why we can’t work within the Abraham Accords [normalisation agreements between Israel, Bahrain and the UAE], using that initiative and really pushing forward to create a stronger regional collaboration around this technology,” he said.

Matt Stanley, client liaison lead at commodities data and analytics company Kpler, said that nuclear fusion power generation remains “largely experimental” and is “a fair few years away” from commercially viable power generation plants being constructed.

However, he added: “With the UAE’s ambitious energy vision, new power generation sources will be explored, with nuclear fusion being one of the potentials.”

What is nuclear fusion?

Nuclear fusion is the process by which two light atomic nuclei combine to form a single heavier one while releasing massive amounts of energy.

Fusion reactions take place in a state of matter called plasma — a hot, charged gas made of positive ions and free-moving electrons with unique properties distinct from solids, liquids or gases.

The sun, along with all other stars, is powered by this reaction.

Most of the fusion reactor concepts under development will use a mixture of deuterium and tritium — hydrogen atoms that contain extra neutrons. In theory, with just a few grams of these reactants, it is possible to produce a terajoule of energy, which is approximately the energy one person in a developed country needs over 60 years.

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