Brad Pitt, Steve Jobs' widow, and Britain's fallen star investor reportedly backed a startup betting on 'cold fusion' — an idea scientists scoff at
- Brad Pitt, Steve Jobs' widow, and Britain's best-known fund manager reportedly invested in a fringe nuclear energy startup valued at close to $1 billion.
- Industrial Heat wants to develop power sources that rely on cold fusion, a dubious scientific idea.
- It's tough to understand why Neil Woodford, who managed billions on behalf of mostly unsophisticated investors, would put so much financial support behind such an obscure start-up pursuing a wildly far-fetched, even discredited, idea.
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Brad Pitt, Steve Jobs' widow, and Britain's best-known fund manager reportedly invested in a fringe nuclear energy startup inexplicably valued at close to $1 billion.
The Financial Times reported that the unlikely trio apparently saw potential in Industrial Heat, a North Carolina-based company seeking to develop power sources that rely on cold fusion, or generating nuclear power without the need for intense heat.
Such long shots are perhaps understandable for celebrities with money to burn.
Pitt's nonprofit, the Make It Right Foundation, invests in sustainability projects - though it was reportedly bogged down in mismanagement and lawsuits in its efforts to rebuild a part of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Laurene Powell Jobs is a billionaire philanthropist who supports causes such a social justice and education.
It's tougher to understand why Neil Woodford, who managed billions on behalf of mostly unsophisticated investors, would put so much financial support behind such an obscure start-up pursuing a wildly far-fetched, even discredited, idea.
Woodford acknowledged "skepticism that has surrounded the theory and history of this branch of science" in one of his funds' latest annual report. However, "The potential disruptive implications of a new, substantially more efficient source of energy deem the various fields of neglected energy science worthy of further investigation," he added.
His "further investigation" was hefty: Woodford Patient Capital Trust marked up the estimated value of its stake by more than 350% to $113 million last year, valuing Industrial Heat at $918 million, the Financial Times said.
A pair of chemists claimed to have achieved cold fusion in 1989, but repeated failures to reproduce their findings has led to mainstream scientists treating the concept with deep skepticism, according to a team of researchers currently revisiting cold fusion. Their efforts "have yet to yield any evidence" of its existence, they wrote. Their experiments are being funded by Google - famous for throwing money at radical ideas it calls "moonshots".
The Briarcliff Trust, which owns Pitt's Hollywood Hills estate, has owned a stake in Industrial Heat since 2015, the Financial Times reported. Thomas Darden, the son of Industrial Heat's founder, was the chief executive of Pitt's Make It Right Foundation, the newspaper said.
The Emerson Collective, a social change organisation founded and run by Powell Jobs, purchased a $10 million stake in Industrial Heat's UK holding company last year, according to Companies House filings. Powell Jobs' brother, Gregory, became a company director in November, filings show.
Woodford recently suspended withdrawals from his flagship fund following massive losses. He owns about a quarter of Industrial Heat and his funds have invested £54 million ($68 million) in the business, the FT reported.
Industrial Heat also counts billionaire John Sall among its backers. The co-founder of SAS Institute, a US analytics firm, purchased a $5 million stake last year, company filings show.
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