Mon. Oct 2nd, 2023
Vanderbilt University Engineering Students Develop Affordable Energy Solution for Remote Exploration

Vanderbilt University engineering students have found an innovative solution for remote exploration by using nuclear waste to power machines in outer space. Zeno Power, a tech startup based in Nashville, has grown rapidly since its inception and now has numerous employees and military contracts to develop its technology for exploring unexplored parts of the ocean, space, and remote lands on Earth.

Traditional solar and battery-powered machines lack the endurance to explore permanently shadowed regions of space. Zeno Power’s radioactive system offers a self-sufficient, portable, and lightweight solution that can be transported to cold, dark, and distant locations that are not easily accessible for human exploration.

The company’s chief executive officer, Tyler Bernstein, emphasized the importance of technology like theirs in exploring the unknown and uncovering unexpected discoveries. Zeno Power aims to play a crucial role in advancing humanity into a multiplanetary species, with the moon serving as a significant factor in this progress.

Zeno Power’s prototype development has gained significant momentum since India’s Chandrayaan-3 mission successfully landed on the moon’s south pole. This achievement has intensified interest in moon mining and exploration, with Zeno Power hoping to provide the necessary fuel for rovers, landers, and other equipment.

The company’s concept has been validated by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, marking a significant step towards revolutionizing oceanic and lunar exploration. Zeno Power aims to bring the power of radioisotopes, previously exclusive to NASA and the military, to the commercial market.

With a $30 million Department of Defense contract and a $15 million NASA contract, Zeno Power has rapidly grown and is pioneering the use of nuclear energy as a clean alternative to fossil fuels. The startup’s power system, fueled by strontium-90, offers a potential solution for remote locations that lack a power grid and require extended periods of power supply.

Zeno Power is collaborating with experts in Washington, D.C., and near Seattle, close to a strontium-90 storage site, to develop its prototype. The company faces various regulatory challenges in handling nuclear material and sending it to space but has assembled an experienced team with expertise in aerospace and nuclear engineering to navigate these obstacles.

The founders of Zeno Power credit the guidance and support of Vanderbilt University’s innovation and design center, The Wond’ry, for their success. The center provides mentorship and resources for aspiring entrepreneurs and hopes to continue spurring innovation across various industries.

Zeno Power’s achievements reflect the increasing importance of the region in the national startup ecosystem. Nashville, with its growing venture capital and pent-up demand for innovation, is emerging as a hub for technological advancements.

The company remains inspired by Margaret Mead’s quote, serving as a reminder of the profound impact their work can have on shaping the future of exploration and energy solutions.