Decarbonizing nuclear power, India's satellite to study black holes and more
Deep science funding updates
- Exponent Energy, which is developing fast charging lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles, raised a series B funding of $26.4M to expand into the intercity e-bus segment and increase its foothold in the electric 3W segment using its breakthrough 15 minute rapid charging technology.
- Plasmagen Biosciences raised a series C round of $27M to expand its presence in the international markets for the plasma derived products such as albumins and immunoglobulins. The company currently has a manufacturing facility to process 5,00,000 litres of plasma every year.
- QNu Labs, a company which provides quantum cryptography and cloud based cybersecurity solutions for safer communication, raised a total of $6.5M as part of its extended seed round.
- Peptris, a company developing an AI based drug discovery solution, raised a seed round of $1M, to accelerate and expand its pipeline of potential drug candidates.
Deep science ecosystem updates
- C-CAMP and SBI Foundation announced a joint call for solutions addressing the growing challenge of AMR- India AMR Challenge for 2024. This is part of their joint program for AMR Innovation supported by the India AMR Innovation Hub.
- Karnataka has released a draft of its revised biotech policy, with an aim to provide Biomanufacturing Unit Investment Subsidy of maximum Rs 10 crore and reimbursement of up to 50% expenses incurred for procuring high-end equipment for undertaking cutting edge R&D (up to Rs 10 lakh). The policy also aims to make Karnataka a global clinical trials hub and build biotech clusters across the state.
- Foxconn has submitted an application to set up a semiconductor fab in India.
- India became the second country after the US to send a dedicated satellite XPoSat to study black holes and other celestial objects.
News from the research community
Researchers from IIT Bombay have developed a novel instrument named GoIDN for melt-mixing of waste thermoplastic polymers and inorganic particulate fillers to manufacture polymer composites
Deep Science Thoughts
Small Modular Reactors: India's nuclear future
2023 has been an exciting year for nuclear energy in India. It saw India’s first domestically designed nuclear reactor come online in September, and three more major pieces of news just in December: India and Russia signing pacts to construct future units of Kudankulam power plant, ISRO chairman S Somnath stating that nuclear power will form part of India’s future space missions, and the GoI responding to a question in parliament stating that they will construct 20 new reactors by 2031 and treble India’s nuclear capacity from 7480MW today to 22480MW.
Most of these nuclear installations will be large power plants, each in the hundreds to thousands of megawatts. However, NITI Aayog released a report in May of this year highlighting the importance of small modular reactors (SMRs) in India’s nuclear and overall decarbonization journey. These reactors are smaller, modular, easily transportable and perhaps most importantly, safer than their full-sized counterparts. They also have commercial and project planning advantages over larger plants: such as lower project costs, lower timelines to completion and adaptability to the local grid requirements.
Cutting-edge SMRs are set to play an important role in the nuclear energy landscape
We are very excited for the development and growth of SMRs, as nuclear power offers a practical and scalable solution to the problem of variability of renewable energy, adding to the energy storage mix of batteries, long term storage methods (pumped hydro, compressed air) and green hydrogen. Further, an IDTechEx report projects that 25% of worldwide nuclear energy will come from SMRs in 2043. While the core tenet, nuclear fission of uranium transuranic elements, of SMRs is the same as regular nuclear power plants, the smaller reactors are fundamentally different on account of their size and scale and can take on one of many designs.
Some of these designs include water-cooled SMRs, high-temperature gas-cooled SMRs, molten salt SMRs, and fast neutron spectrum SMRs. These methods are at different technology readiness levels (TRLs) at the moment, but are all fast moving towards commercial adoption.
Innovation is coming from large companies and startups alike
Technology development and commercial adoption of SMRs has come both from large private players as well as from startups. According to a report released last year by Valuates, the global market for SMRs is expected to reach $18.8B by 2030. Large players such as GE-Hitachi, Westinghouse Nuclear and Rolls Royce all have dedicated arms working on SMRs and are creating reliable commercially viable products. Startups, though, are working at the cutting edge of technology and working on novel form factors altogether for SMRs. TerraPower, possibly the best-known of all SMR startups, included Bill Gates in its founding team and has raised over $800M in equity funding so far. Another US-based startup, NuScale, was the first startup whose SMR was granted approval by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), and has raised close to $200M in funding to date.
The technologies used by both the larger companies as well as startups have now reached TRL levels of 6 and 7, and are ripe for commercialization. Their commercial uptake, though, will have challenges. Given the overall mixed opinion on nuclear energy and the excessive regulation around the field, regulatory approvals for new plants can take 5 or more years. Costs are still high, which means that the target geographies for SMRs may yet remain limited.
However, this leaves open an ideal market for venture-backed startups to enter. With increasing privatization in the space, a burgeoning market, and a dire need, the current status of SMRs in India is reminiscent of the nascent private space industry a decade ago before the likes of Agnikul, Skyroot and Bellatrix grew to their current large size. While there are no SMR startups of note in India right now, as a venture fund with a clear focus on climate investments, we see this as both an exciting and opportune time to participate in the space as there are few doubts that the space will see significant growth in the coming decades.