While researching how nuclear microreactors could serve as a suitable energy source for a future Mars colony, this former SpaceX engineer decided to start Radiant to build nuclear microreactors that he hopes will solve one of the biggest problems that society faces today – accessible, clean, reliable energy. While a prototype is still years a few years away, Radiant’s patented portable nuclear microreactor will yield zero-emissions, with each microreactor projected to be strong enough to power 1,000 homes continuously for 4+ years. The company’s microreactors are designed to fit in a shipping container and can be easily transported by air, ship, and road to the places where they are needed the most.
LA TechWatch caught up with Founder and CEO Doug Bernauer to learn more about the genesis of the company, the vision for Radiant, and the company’s recent funding round.
Who were your investors and how much did you raise?
Radiant raised a $1.2M Seed round from angel investors including Charlie Songhurst, Hank Vigil, Josh Manchester, and Tom McInerney.
Tell us about the product or service Radiant offers.
Radiant is developing the first portable, zero-emissions power source that works anywhere. Its patented portable nuclear microreactor is the brainchild of former SpaceX engineers who have experience quickly bringing real products and innovations to market. Radiant’s clean-energy solution uses safe fuels that have already been extensively tested by the Department of Energy, materials that have already been used in prior nuclear designs, and a standard core design based on sixty years of progressive innovation. By combining proven nuclear technologies with cutting-edge engineering techniques proven to accelerate development time, Radiant can offer a safe, low cost, a portable renewable power source that can be an alternative to fossil fuels for both military and commercial applications.
What inspired the start of Radiant?
I’m a former SpaceX engineer. While at SpaceX, I researched energy sources for an eventual Mars colony. I felt nuclear microreactors held the most promise but realized there was an immediate opportunity for microreactors on Earth and left SpaceX to found Radiant.
How is Radiant different?
Radiant’s microreactor outputs over 1MW, enough to power about 1,000 homes continuously for over four years, while several microreactors could be used together to power an entire town or military base. The microreactor is designed to fit in a shipping container and can be easily transported by air, ship, and road. Radiant’s microreactor design also leverages an advanced particle fuel that does not meltdown and withstands higher temperatures when compared to traditional nuclear fuels. The use of helium coolant greatly reduces corrosion, boiling, and contamination risks associated with more traditional water coolant.
What market is Radiant targeting and how big is it?
There are many remote locations around the world that require portable power such as arctic villages and remote military bases. These locations currently rely on fossil fuel-powered generators, which is not only bad for the environment, but also challenging logistically, because generators require constant shipments of fuel over rural roads. In the military, transporting fuel can be dangerous: according to an October 2018 U.S. Army report titled, “Mobile Nuclear Power Plants For Ground Operations,” about half of the 36,000 casualties in the nine-year period during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom occurred from hostile attacks during land transport missions.
Nuclear microreactors offer several important benefits: the energy is clean, the fuel lasts 4+ years, they can be easily refueled, and they work in areas with no sun or wind (even underground).
What’s your business model?
Radiant sells to both commercial and military customers who need a clean, reliable, and portable power source. Typically these customers want to replace diesel generators with clean energy.
How has COVID-19 impacted the business?
It has not. Radiant is still in the development phase.
What was the funding process like?
There is a lot of interest in this field, and Radiant’s founding team is well connected in the energy, space, and tech fields. There were many angel investors interested in becoming involved. In addition, Radiant is pursuing grants from the Department of Energy, Department of Defense, the U.S. Air Force, and others.
What are the biggest challenges that you faced while raising capital?
This space is nascent – there are no working prototypes yet. The type of investor we were targeting for this seed round was well aware of this, but traditional VC firms may not be.
What factors about your business led your investors to write the check?
Investors were encouraged by our SpaceX roots. SpaceX has a reputation for bringing complex new technologies to market quickly, so investors believe Radiant can do the same. They also appreciated our approach of combining proven nuclear technologies with cutting-edge engineering techniques proven to accelerate development time.
Investors were encouraged by our SpaceX roots. SpaceX has a reputation for bringing complex new technologies to market quickly, so investors believe Radiant can do the same.
What are the milestones you plan to achieve in the next six months?
Radiant – and really, the entire microreactor industry – is playing the long game. While we anticipate having a prototype in a few years, it will be several more years until microreactors are active in the field, producing power for customers. Right now, we are focused on product development and grant proposals.
What advice can you offer companies in Los Angeles that do not have a fresh injection of capital in the bank?
Assuming we are talking about similar startups that need capital, the team and the business model are the most critical elements. Find the biggest risk investors see in your business plan and take action to address it: with research, a key new hire, or even a pivot in strategy.
Where do you see the company going now over the near term?
True to our SpaceX roots, Radiant plans to be the first microreactor startup with a working prototype, and the first to have a working microreactor deployed in the field.
What is your favorite restaurant in LA?
There are so many great restaurants in LA, I enjoy a variety over favorites and especially all the ethnic dining options.
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