Petra: Revolutionary Infrastructure Tunneling
Protecting critical infrastructure through robotic boring
There is no shortage of climate and manmade disasters that threaten utility infrastructures, such as pipelines, electrical grids, and telecommunications backbones. Since 1980, extreme weather and climate events have cost municipalities and private companies an average of $2.295 trillion, while leaving homes and businesses without power for weeks at a time.
One of the most straightforward solutions to prevent damage to vulnerable infrastructure is to move it underground. This is easier said than done in many situations, as it can be difficult to effectively tunnel through deep bedrock. Alumni Ventures portfolio company Petra is changing that with Swiftly, its tunneling robot that can bore through some of the hardest geologies in the world at previously unimaginable speeds. Petra’s technology has the potential to prevent billions of dollars in infrastructure damage and usher in a new era of protection for services increasingly at risk from climate change.
Pushing the Envelope of Tunneling Technology
In stark contrast to conventional drilling and boring devices, Petra’s robot utilizes extreme temperatures and 1,000 MPH mass flow to fracture and remove rock — all without making physical contact with the earth. Compared to legacy boring methods, such as diamond and carbide drills or explosives, Petra offers a solution that is both more efficient and safer.
Despite still being in its pilot phase, Petra has already received hundreds of requests for its technology and has established critical partnerships with construction firms, who have also invested in the company. According to Petra’s CEO Kim Abrams: “By delivering a boring solution that affordably undergrounds utilities through high-grade rock, we can finally protect communities from exposure to wildfires and ensure the safety of critical infrastructure in disaster-prone areas, especially in places like the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Rocky Mountains, and coastal regions.”
What We Like About Petra
Large Market With Larger Upside: It’s estimated that the market for moving just the electricity infrastructure underground is projected to reach $19 billion by 2024.
Leading-Edge Technology: Petra’s technology has the possibility to power entirely novel solutions for utilities, which will help society adjust to the realities of extreme weather events caused by climate change. This tech is highly defensible and difficult for would-be competitors to replicate.
Clear Use Case: Petra’s robot improves the economics of undergrounding utilities in challenging geographic regions. This may translate to fewer forced power outages on the West Coast during wildfire season. It can also streamline urban projects and lessen damage to existing infrastructure.
How We Are Involved
Nassau Street Ventures (for the Princeton community) sponsored Alumni Ventures’ investment in Petra’s $30 million Series A+ led by ACME Capital. Siblings funds Chestnut Street Ventures (for the Penn community) and Ring Ventures (for the Texas A&M community) also participated in the round, alongside AV’s Total Access Fund.
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