Bill Gates-Backed Nuclear Startup TerraPower Piles on Investors

TerraPower, the nuclear power startup backed by Microsoft (s msft) Chairman Bill Gates, has brought on another couple of high-profile investors for its second round of funding. According to the company this afternoon, TerraPower has raised another $35 million from Khosla Ventures — Vinod Khosla’s venture fund — and Charles River Ventures, in addition to being supported by Gates and the investors at Intellectual Ventures, which was founded by former Microsoft chief technology officer, Nathan Myhrvold.

TerraPower has developed a “traveling wave nuclear reactor design” — technology that’s been researched since the 1990?s. But TerraPower has been one of the first companies to develop a practical design that it plans to commercialize. The company says its reactor can provide an almost infinite amount of power by utilizing a small amount of enriched uranium at the beginning of the process (see slides at the bottom of the post); the nuclear reactor can then run on its own waste product, making and consuming its own fuel.

The benefits of the design are that the reactor doesn’t have to be refueled or have its waste removed until the end of its life (theoretically a couple hundred years). Using waste uranium also reduces the amount of waste in the overall nuclear life cycle, and extends the available supply of the world’s uranium for nuclear by many times.

How close to reality is this technology? According to this presentation by TerraPower CEO John Gilleland,, “operation of a traveling wave reactor can be demonstrated in less than ten years, and commercial deployment can begin in less than fifteen years.” TerraPower has also reportedly been in talks with Japanese giant Toshiba to jointly develop a small nuclear reactor.

Not surprisingly, with its Microsoft connection, TerraPower has leaned heavily on supercomputing to design and model the reactor and the life cycle of the fuel. The TerraPower team is using “1,024 Xeon core processors assembled on 128 blade servers,” which is a cluster that is “over 1000 times the computational ability as a desktop computer.”

Gates has been touting the innovation behind TerraPower over the past couple of months, and has recently been calling for the federal government to invest some $16 billion per year into sparking energy innovations like that of the company’s. Gates is also a limited partner in Khosla Venture’s fund (I spotted him briefly at the Khosla Ventures annual partners meeting last month in Sausalito, Calif.)

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Images courtesy of TerraPower.