Fusion energy may be having its moment, and investors are taking notice.

Long the realm of university research, funded with billions of government dollars, advances in materials and computing have driven down costs to the point where startups and private investors are jumping in, drawn by the hope of creating a power source that doesn’t emit greenhouse gases.

Startups First Light Fusion and Tokamak Energy raised funds with plans of having prototype fusion generators built by about 2025, and they are just two of about two dozen new companies in the field, the Wall Street Journal reported. They hope to succeed in what has proved elusive for more than 60 years: developing a way to get more energy out of a reaction than is put in.

Private interest in fusion has been matched by the support of governments including the U.S., where Congress in December boosted spending on research in the field. China aims for fusion power before 2050, according to the Chinese Academy of Sciences. And a 35-country consortium based in France called ITER is aiming to achieve fusion by 2035.

“If we can make fusion work, it really would be the perfect way to generate energy,” Steven Cowley, director of Princeton University’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, told the Wall Street Journal.

That’s a big “if.” Fusion hasn’t been achieved yet, and researchers for years have said they are close.

Venture capital spent at least $184.5 million last year on startups racing to commercialize fusion, PitchBook said. General Fusion, backed by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, raised $65 million from Singapore’s Temasek Holdings in December to build its first prototype plant.

About 450 nuclear fission reactors provide about 11% of the world’s electricity, National Geographic says on its website. Nuclear power isn’t considered renewable energy, because it depends on a mined resource — usually uranium. It has long been decried by environments concerned about the effects of the reactor’s radioactive waste. Even so, National Geographic says, fusion may deliver more energy more safely and with far less harmful waste than fission. 

  • Investors also are pouring money into the renewable energy sector. Renewable sector spending in the U.S. jumped 28% to $55.5 billion last year, while worldwide investment in the first climbed 1% to $282.2 billion. 
  • In December, Rolls-Royce Holdings CEO Warren East said jet-engine makers may want to consider nuclear energy to power their synthetic fuel plants. He said that Rolls-Royce may team up with an alternative energy startup or petrochemical company.
  • First Light recently raised $32.8 million, while Tokamak Energy took in $87.3 million, the Wall Street Journal reported.