With a ‘remarkable’ team, Elysium aims to solve the world’s energy problems

For 23 years, nuclear researcher Mike Hanson worked behind fences crowned with razor wire. He was searched every time he entered or left his office at the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory, always under the watchful eye of guards brandishing AR-15 rifles.

His new place of employment, he says, couldn’t be more different. Stepping out of the elevator on the eighth floor of Boston’s WeWork South Station, he’s greeted by the staff before grabbing a cup of coffee—one of several he helps himself to throughout the day. The light, airy office he shares with three dozen other full-time staffers is always buzzing with activity. The change, he says, is a “miracle.”

“At WeWork, I love walking in the door in the morning,” Hanson says. “It kind of fills my heart with joy.”

Hanson is the principal nuclear materials scientist at Elysium Industries, a quickly growing nuclear technology firm. Founded by two young entrepreneurs, the company is strongly committed to its mission: developing nuclear power plants that are smaller, safer, and less expensive than traditional ones. And most importantly for the company, they hope to provide affordable electricity to wide swaths of the world where it’s out of reach for many residents.

It’s an unusual type of company to operate out of a collaborative workspace like WeWork, and Hanson says that’s the key to its success.

“It’s not a stuffy, stodgy naval lab with a clear delineation of responsibilities and a strict chain of command,” says Hanson. “All of us here are working on everything together.”


Building a diverse team

Elysium now has about 75 employees, including 38 full-time staffers at WeWork South Station. Others work out of labs around the world. Many of the staffers, like Hanson, are engineers who have worked on closely monitored projects for the U.S. Navy and NASA.

Matthew Hayes and Carl Perez—who co-founded Elysium along with Ed Pheil, Bill Wangard, and Andrew Dodson—say they are proud of putting together a team that has tripled since they moved into WeWork less than a year ago.

“The caliber of people we’ve brought together is remarkable,” says Perez. “And there’s quite an age range, especially when you consider that Matt and I are in our mid-twenties. Our engineers range from 30 to 80.”

Perez says that there are “a couple of hundred at the most” with the know-how to work on developing a new nuclear reactor.

Most, like Hanson, have joined the Elysium team because they believe in the company’s mission of providing inexpensive electricity to the world.

“It’s very compelling as a company,” Hanson says. “The whole concept is refreshing and exciting.”

Perez says that for a lot of the nuclear engineers on the team, the whole project has a level of urgency.

“They are the last generation that will be able to build this reactor,” says Perez. “They all want to change the world for the better, and no future generation is going to be able to pick up the ball and make it a reality.”

Elysium is looking for a “big solution” to the high cost of producing energy. Right now, the cheapest sources of power are also the ones that produce the most pollution. And cleaner solutions aren’t always reliable or cost-efficient.

“Solar panels and wind turbines actually cost more for the consumer,” says Perez. “Our objective is to bring down the cost of electricity as much as we can. The prosperity of a country depends on it.”


Latching onto an idea

The concept for the molten salt reactor has been around since the 1950s and was the subject of several studies in the ’60s and ’70s at Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

While attending Babson College in Massachusetts, Hayes learned about the reactors from a trustee from his former boarding school.

“Once he introduced me to the technology, I latched onto it,” says Hayes. “I knew this was something big.”

What’s so special about molten salt reactors? First of all, they’re much safer than traditional reactors because they operate at lower pressure and use a coolant system that continues to operate even after an accident, which researchers say make them “meltdown-proof.”

That means molten salt reactors don’t require the extensive safety systems of traditional reactors.

“A lot of the cost of a traditional reactor is the safety system,” says Hayes. “You need containment domes, diesel backup generators, and 10-mile safety zones. That makes that electricity so much more expensive to produce.”

Molten salt reactors are also more efficient, operating at higher temperatures that produce more energy and less waste. And they are much smaller than traditional reactors.

“One truck will be able hold a reactor with enough power to supply all of a city the size of Boston, Seattle, or San Francisco,” says Perez.


Sizing up the competition

Hayes and Perez know there’s plenty of competition out there. The technology has been public for more than a decade, and in the past few years, it’s been pursued by companies based in the U.S., the U.K., Canada, and China. Some have already invested millions into their own projects.

At first, learning that several well-funded companies were also researching a new generation of nuclear reactors left Hayes and Perez unsure about how to proceed. Then they realized that it was good news.

“Hearing that other more well-funded companies have started going down the same path has given us confidence not only in our design, but in our team,” says Hayes. “What’s taken them years to accomplish has taken our team months.”

Elysium has already filed for a large number of patents for the technology their team has developed.

“We’re not just dusting off the old technology, like some other companies are doing,” says Hayes. “Our team is taking into account all the recent scientific advancements and coming up with an original concept.”

The timeline is incredibly ambitious: Elysium hopes to have a working prototype in the next five to seven years and begin mass manufacturing them in eight to 10 years.

All this means a lot of collaboration among the staffers, who are having to use their expertise in ways that they never could have predicted.


“I feel like a student all over again,” says Hanson, a former chemist and material scientist for Lockheed Martin. “I have to crack open a textbook and brush up on all sorts of things. I was hired for my technical expertise in one area, but like everyone around here, I’ve had to expand to other areas.”

Hanson says one of the keys is WeWork, where the core team can all work together in the same space.

“Having everyone working in the same room is energizing,” says Hanson. “Perfect environment for a startup like this.”

And for the company’s first-time founders, setting up shop in a WeWork has been the right decision.

“The degree of flexibility we have here is amazing,” says Hayes. “I mean, we’re adding office space almost every month. We can get more space for our business team or our technical team whenever we need it.”

Hayes says he can’t imagine finding office space that would offer the same potential for growth.

“In building our company,” Hayes says, “we see WeWork as a long-term partner.”

 Photos: Pretty Instant

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