Controversial Duo: Nuclear Pod & Canadian Tar Sands!

hyperionlogosmallDon’t feel so comfortable with a hot-tub sized nuclear power generator buried under your feet? Perhaps those that mine and process Canada’s tar sands deposits will feel differently — at least that’s the hope of Hyperion, a startup developing a modular nuclear device. Hyperion floated the idea this morning: Hey, why not use Hyperion Power Modules to clean up the power used to produce oil from the tar sands?

Yeah, it’s an unusual target market — and Hyperion is an unusual company. Hyperion claims that those mining an average oil field could save as much as $2 billion a year if they used the company’s technology instead of natural gas to power the process. Oil fields are also remote locations, where the costs of transporting fuel for power cut into the bottom line. Tar sands developers, like the military, which Hyperion is also targeting, could also be, for lack of a better word, less squeamish about controversial forms of power — the industry is already routinely the target of attack by environmentalists.

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But Hyperion also appears to be trying to distance its marketing from the “nuclear” elephant in the room. The term nuclear does not appear once on its latest news release — surprising, given it’s the crux of the technology. Instead it’s using terms like “thermal battery,” explaining the module as one that utilizes the “energy of low-enriched uranium fuel.” We figure anyone who’s going to plunk down $25 million for the device would figure it out.

The company also appears to have pushed back the date for when the nuclear pods will be available. Hyperion was previoulsy shooting for as early as 2013, but this morning says: “The company expects to begin delivery of the units in 2014.” It probably has to do with the difficult capital markets, as CEO John “Grizz” Deal told us last October that the company was in the process of raising a Series B round.

For all of Hyperion’s controversy, the team has managed to raise funds from venture and private equity firm Altira Group and signed up its first customer, TES Group, which they call an investment company focused on the energy sector in Central Eastern Europe. If the device can overcome the regulatory and financing hurdles and a likely public backlash, it could provide a large amount of emissions-free power for off-grid communities and industries.

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