MSc EMINE alumni Eirik Eide Pettersen muses that when Seaborg Technologies was just a growing start-up idea, global warming and climate change were something that Al Gore was trying to get the world to take notice of. Now that these issues are something that everyone is worried about, a door has opened for advanced nuclear energy. And this Copenhagen-based start-up that he co-founded in 2014 is poised perfectly to usher in this new era. Their funding from the Innovation Fund Denmark (IFD) is proof positive of a public change of opinion as this is the first Danish investment in nuclear fission research since their 1985 nuclear power ban. And new funding from various other sources this year has allowed the company to hit significant milestones on the way to develop their molten salt reactor (MSR).
We wanted to hear what exciting gains Seaborg has made with their new capital, and how this new approach to nuclear energy could be the key to alleviate global warming. Eirik begins by sharing a personal observation: “I always expected to have to justify my choice of career, but after answering ‘nuclear engineer’ nowadays, it’s an almost unanimously a positive response. People are interested, sometimes carefully so, but they seem to believe that we need to do something drastic, something more than what we are doing if we are to overcome our pollution problems. And this is where re-examining nuclear as a solution comes in.” The last expert report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) illustrates this, by providing four mitigation scenarios that assume a two and six-fold increase in nuclear energy. Yet the report notes several barriers to scaling up and developing conventional nuclear technologies. “This discrepancy between a pressing need for new low-carbon nuclear energy and the apprehension regarding conventional nuclear energy is exactly what forced Seaborg into existence.”
Seaborg has put their funding to good use: from expanding their team (from five to sixteen employees) to moving into new and larger offices in Copenhagen. With a smile, he says “We now employ people from four continents and the official office language has changed from Danish to English. The nature of my job has also changed, from being mainly technical to organisational such as project management – and trying to ensure that the Seaborg Technologies transitions from a group of chaos experts to a structured, orchestrated effort towards developing new nuclear reactors.”
More business growth: Earlier this year they signed a MoU “to jointly develop, license and manufacture the Seaborg Compact Molten Salt Reactor” with some important partners in Asia. Moreover, they have refined their go-to-market strategy and business plan, which has already paid off in the form of the first documented customer interest from a major international company. “We are working hard to develop the business case, strengthen our collaboration, and to leverage all of this in our upcoming rounds of fundraising. The good news is, the MSR industry is also growing – with China announcing major, multi-billion investing and the US passing laws to support development, so awareness of this technology and its potential is drastically increasing.”
“Regarding our reactor, we are making progress every day. We have set a pretty ambitious target of starting the construction of the prototype in the mid-2020s. That will require a great deal of hard work, capital, and a very slick licensing process, but it is possible! Last week we started our first corrosion experiments at the chemistry lab of the Technical University of Denmark, which is quite the company milestone. At the same time, we are working on developing and documenting the conceptual design. This work has really accelerated lately with the influx of sorely needed man and woman power.”
As an alumnus, Eirik knows the value of the InnoEnergy network – and is grateful for the support offered through the promotion of their efforts and by providing the much-needed expertise. He explains, “For example, there’s a lot of knowledge about nuclear at InnoEnergy via some of the French partners. We would definitively be interested in getting to know them better. And we have an excellent relationship with the EMINE Master’s coordinators, and hope to collaborate more in the future.” This summer they hosted two first-year students from the EMINE programme which was a great experience for everyone involved. “We definitively welcome more talented and passionate students from InnoEnergy to get in touch and inquire. This includes students from EMINE, but also other specialisations such as chemistry and engineering. There is obviously a lot of superb talent in the InnoEnergy Master’s and PhD school that we hope to attract. And our team is exceptional, so joining Seaborg is a unique opportunity for them to work with the best and brightest to solve the greatest problems we face today. We know that by continuing to attract the best talent, we will go all the way.”
A promising global shift
Already now, with their reactor still in the conceptual phase and years from commercialisation, they are receiving considerable interest from big players with unmet needs – unlikely to be filled by current technologies. These companies are willing to explore next-generation nuclear technologies to decarbonise their industries, despite the stigma that came from decades of an “anti-nuclear” narrative. Eirik passionately states, “Again, it is as if though the world is shifting – away from old fears and superstitions – towards combating climate change as quickly and efficiently as possible. It’s all very exciting, very inspiring, and very promising. The US once called on the world to use Atoms for Peace. Now we need to do it again for an equally noble cause – to re-think nuclear energy and halt global warming!”
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