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Petra Raises $30M to Develop Robotic Tunneling Tech for Utilities


December 9, 2021

Petra, a robotics company that can create tunnels through hard geologies for utilities, has announced the completion of a 20-foot demonstration tunnel through the hardest rock on earth, as well as a Series A funding round of $30 million. Petra’s hard rock boring robot aims to transform the way all utilities are buried underground by tackling the hardest problem in underground construction – how to bore utility tunnels reliably and cost-effectively through nightmare geologies, the company said.

“In the past, there have only been a handful of costly and inefficient methods for tunnel construction, starting with manual tools and evolving to the modern tunnel-boring machine,” said Kim Abrams, co-founder and CEO of Petra. “Our non-contact method is the next evolution of tunneling and will usher in a new age of undergrounding utilities. By delivering the first non-contact, boring-robot that affordably undergrounds utilities through bedrock, we can product communities around the world from exposure to wildfires and ensure the safety of critical infrastructure in disaster-prone areas.”

The non-contact, thermal-drilling method can uniquely bore 60-inch diameter micro tunnels through hard rock, making it possible to bore utility tunnels through previously impenetrable geologies, said Petra. Conventional micro-tunneling machines are purpose-built for a single diameter, but Petra can bore a range of diameters between 20 and 60 inches, reducing the costs. The company said it also offers the first reverse-tunneling technology, making machine maintenance and cutter head rescue possible.”

“At DCVC, we’re committed to investing in companies that are building solutions to make our society’s infrastructure more resilient,” said Chris Boshuizen, co-founder of Planet and DCVC, which led the funding round. “Petra’s ability to bore tunnels in bedrock is transformational for global utilities and innumerable other applications. Petra’s tunneling technology is providing a safer, faster, and more cost-effective option for all underground infrastructure – electricity, water, sewage, and enables projects the world would never have been able to do before.”

“Petra successfully completed a 20-foot bore through hard Sioux Quartzite, where we averaged an astounding one-inch-per-minute in a geology usually excavated by dynamite,” said Ian Wright, the CTO of Petra and a co-founder of Tesla. “No undergrounding method has been able to tunnel through this kind of bedrock until now. This achievement is due to Petra’s thermal drilling method, which efficiently bores through rock without touching it.”

Petra said the U.S. national grid, established more than 40 years ago, was not built to withstand climate change or new strains on the system. Above-ground powerlines have also caused thousands of wildfires in recent years, and are frequently destroyed during violent storms. The company said the Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects global energy demand will increase by 50% in the next 30 years, requiring more transmission lines. Petra said power lines must be undergrounded to meet these demands.

For more information on the company and its technology, visit the Petra website here.

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