Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Profits from Canadian Oil Sands Paying for Next-Gen Fusion Research

It is only fitting that old wealth pay for the transformative technologies which will make society better, and create new wealth at the same time. That is what seems to be happening in the advanced biofuels sector -- where old wealth chemical and oil companies are paying for the amazing new technologies of renewable fuels. And it also seems to be happening in the next-generation fusion sector, where wealth being made in Canadian oilsands is supporting avant-garde energy research by General Fusion Inc., of Burnaby, B.C.
General Fusion Inc. of Burnaby, B.C., may look like a sophisticated nuclear research company. It’s also the manifestation of a mid-life crisis. A decade ago, physicist Michel Laberge and engineer-executive Doug Richardson were working together at another B.C. firm making software for print designers. When Laberge turned 40 he came to a realization, says Richardson: “[Michel] didn’t want to help cut down forests anymore.”

Today Laberge is the president and chief technology officer—with Richardson as CEO—of a small company that hopes to become the first to get more energy out of a man-made experimental nuclear fusion reaction than it puts in. General Fusion has raised more than $33 million to date from a mix of government eco-research programs and private investors, including CEO-founder Jeff Bezos.

Among the partners, one stands out as especially counterintuitive: this summer the company received funding from Calgary-based oil sands company Cenovus. In backing fusion research, Cenovus is supporting what could become an alternative to its own business, if fusion generation can ever shed its long-standing pie-in-the-sky status. “For us, the investment isn’t a large amount,” says Dave Hassan, who oversees the Cenovus eco- fund. “For a small research company with cash requirements it’s big.” Fusion is a long shot, Hassan concedes, “but it’s a game changer if it works—carbon-free energy, essentially, forever.” __Macleans
The smarter people among the "old money" are risking at least some of that wealth on the long-shot gambles that threaten to change everything. Of course, these days, the "old money" doesn't have to be very old. Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Peter Thiel, for example, are generally considered to be "old money" these days. And each of them is pushing world-changing technologies which could change everything.

But even older money -- such as Exxon Mobil, Dow Chemical, Shell Oil, Monsanto, etc -- are investing inways to push the envelope of technology in order to invent and innovate ways out of current and near-term quagmires. That is the way markets and capital are supposed to work, as long as greedy governments and layabout special interests do not destroy the normal mechanisms of capital markets.

If any institution is threatening to destroy the future, it would be big statism in conjunction with its many enablers. If any protest movement actually wanted to make a difference, in terms of making the world better, that would be the place to start.

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