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While eating lunch at a recent energy conference with the usual random selection of delegates and speakers, I asked the co-founder of a leading energy venture capital firm what technology he finds most exciting right now. Without hesitation, he began telling me about his company’s ambitious, longer-term bet on a small nuclear fusion company. He then put me in contact with his partner and co-founder, who helped fill in the details for this story.

Aiming to create the first net gain reactor, General Fusion's design leverages steam-driven pneumatics in quest for the Holy Grail of energy production. In a world beset by fossil fuel energy woes, fusion energy is holiest of Holy Grails. A working fusion reactor would not only release large amounts of energy but, unlike nuclear fission plants, they can’t melt down. They’re also significantly “cleaner,” in that a fusion reaction only uses small amounts of an abundant fuel (hydrogen isotopes tritium and deuterium), which is only weakly radioactive. The problem is, no one has yet created a net gain reactor (more energy out than in), although many well-funded programs are actively pursuing it.

2. Harnessing the Sun's Power Ever since cold fusion flopped spectacularly, the idea of finding an affordable way of replicating the sun's method of generating energy has become almost a joke. That may be about to change. Yes, the two major fusion reactor designs being explored in the research world -- one is called a tokamak and the other is inertial confinement systems -- show promise, but they are 20 to 30 years off. Also, they require either gigantic superconducting magnet systems or extra-fierce laser arrays and will cost tens of billions at best.

In the race among world governments and wealthy companies to create and commercialize a nuclear fusion reactor, a small Canadian firm backed by innovative ideas and a little venture capital may just have a shot.  A report from Agence France-Presse.

Michel Laberge quit his job to invent a "glorified jackhammer" that he hoped would save the planet. That was 10 years ago.

Now, investors are betting more than $30 million on that jackhammer idea, which may yield a holy grail of energy -- a safe, clean and unlimited power source called hot fusion.

One of Canada's leading purveyors of fossil fuels, oil sands company Cenovus Energy Inc. , is placing a bet on a sci-fi energy source in hopes that nuclear fusion can one day help squeeze bitumen out of Fort McMurray.

The company is making a $4-million investment in General Fusion, a Burnaby, B.C.-based startup that on Thursday announced $19.5-million in new development capital, including some from Bezos Expeditions, the personal investment company of Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos.

Nuclear fusion, the mother of all alternative energies, is a quandary that will take dozens of countries, hundreds of scientists, and billions of dollars to unlock. Unless Burnaby's General Fusion does it first.

In an unassuming corner of Burnaby, a lush, green suburb of Vancouver, BC, I’ve arrived at the doorway of a company that could potentially change the world. But you’d never know it from the nondescript office park it’s situated in, or the bare bones furniture and office equipment I see once I open the door and announce my presence. It’s almost as if I’ve stepped back into the office of an insurance actuary circa 1973, right down to spartan wall decoration and all-male staff. Only the “General Fusion” sign on the door indicates anything out of the ordinary.