A Noble prizewinner backed by major Japanese investors has joined the race to develop grid-ready nuclear fusion power.

Blue Laser Fusion (BLF) co-founded by Shuji Nakamura has just raised $25m in a first funding round as it bids to advance its proprietary laser-based fusion technology to build a commercial-ready reactor by 2030, with eventual plans for a 1GW system.

Nakamura – who won the Nobel prize for physics in 2014 and is professor of physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara – said BLF’s technology will use a “safe” non-radioactive hydrogen-boron fuel to achieve the reaction at the heart of the fusion process, which aims to harness the same processes that power the sun to produce unlimited, on-demand, zero-carbon energy (see panel).

Nakamura and others founded BLF last year and said the funds would be used to advance R&D by the company in California and Japan.

The funding round saw BLF attract backing from heavyweight Japanese investment groups JAFCO and SPARX, the latter itself backed by Toyota Motor and Mitsui.

"Fusion is the ultimate energy source, and its successful commercialisation will be a huge leap towards achieving clean and abundant energy for everyone," said Keisuke Miyoshi, CEO of JAFCO.

BLF joins a clutch of commercial fusion start-ups working in parallel to the scientific community’s efforts to make the energy source viable.

Despite the technology’s potential, its own industry association warned recently that it needs major new sources of funding to bridge an investment ‘valley of death’ that could stymie efforts to bring commercial-scale projects to market.

Nuclear fusion - star power on earth

Nuclear fusion energy aims to harness the same reactions that power the sun to produce unlimited, on-demand, clean energy.

The process involves changing a gas to a plasma at temperatures of tens of millions of degrees, often aided by superconducting magnets, to create collisions between hydrogen atoms, tapping the energy that’s produced.

Unlike its close cousin nuclear fission – basis of the current global nuclear industry, which relies on splitting rather than combining atoms – fusion is said by scientists to present no risk of the sort of runaway reaction that led to the Chernobyl disaster.

And while it is not waste-free, the by-products are said to be low and short-lived compared to fission, and much more easily manageable.