Princeton Stellarators, Inc., a PPPL spinoff company, receives funding through DOE’s Milestone-Based Fusion Development Program

Written by
Raphael Rosen
June 2, 2023

Please note that Princeton Stellarators is now known as Thea Energy.

A spinoff start-up company of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) is among the first round of awardees of DOE’s $46 million Milestone-Based Fusion Development Program, which supports public-private partnerships to speed the development of a pilot fusion power plant. 

Princeton Stellarators, Inc, (PSI) a fusion energy company launched by David Gates, a former physicist at PPPL with outside partners, is among the eight winners to receive funding over the next 18 months. PPPL will also partner with several other companies that received funding through the Milestone Program; those details are not yet available.

The award will help PSI refine the use of straight electromagnets in stellarators, the twisty fusion facility concept originated in the 1950s at PPPL by its founder, Lyman Spitzer. While stellarators typically require magnets with complex twisted shapes, simpler straight magnets could make the design and construction of the facilities more efficient. Scientists around the world are striving to harness the fusion process that drives the sun and stars to generate electricity without producing greenhouse gasses or long-lived radioactive waste.

“We’ve reinvented the stellarator with no more wiggly coils,” said Gates, now chief technology officer of PSI, of the radical breakthrough the start-up is pursuing. “The basic idea is that we can replace twisting coils with flat coils with varied current in them. So, we’ve taken the complexity out of the coils and put it into the control system.” 

The concept draws on technologies licensed from PPPL, where Gates had led the notion of replacing complex electromagnets with far simpler permanent ones. “It’s inspired by the permanent magnet idea that we were working on,” he said. 

The Laboratory was fully supportive. “We were happy to cooperate with the new company as we believe public-private partnerships are key to developing fusion, a clean energy source for the world,” said Steve Cowley, PPPL Laboratory Director.

The DOE’s milestone program follows the March 2022 White House fusion summit titled, “A Bold Decadal Vision for Commercial Fusion Energy.” Realizing commercial fusion energy, one of five priorities in the White House Net-Zero Game Changers Initiative, has the potential to deliver abundant, clean, reliable electricity and many other benefits.

Applicants for the Milestone-Based Fusion Development Program went through a rigorous merit-review process that included evaluation of their scientific, technical, commercialization, and business and financial viabilities. The review also looked at the companies’ plans to support DOE’s efforts in advancing President Biden’s Justice40 Initiative, whose goal is that 40 percent of the overall benefits of certain climate and energy investments flow to disadvantaged communities.

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