The UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) and First Light Fusion are collaborating on a project to convert fusion reactions into heat to enable clean power production. The ‘fusion island’ project is to be partly funded by a grant from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
First Light Fusion plans to demonstrate fusion by the middle of next year and to demonstrate ‘gain’ – generating more energy than that required to create fusion reactions – by 2024. No fusion energy project has achieved this yet. A key step in the development of First Light’s vision is the creation of a fusion island, a sub-system that converts fusion energy into heat and manages fuel supply in a fusion power plant.
Thanks in part to an Energy Entrepreneurs Fund grant from BEIS, a fusion island concept development project is now under way. BEIS created the competitive funding scheme to support the development and demonstration of state-of-the-art technologies, products and processes in energy efficiency, power generation and heat and electricity storage.
Nick Hawker, founder and CEO of First Light Fusion, said: “We believe that the UK is one of the very best countries in the world in which to pursue our endeavour, powering a world worth inheriting. We are delighted that BEIS has recognised the quality, value and credibility of the work we have done so far.”
Ian Chapman, CEO of UKAEA, said: “Fusion energy is an extraordinarily important area, and UKAEA is proud to be the home to world-leading expertise in the field. We are very pleased to be able to work with First Light Fusion and provide them with access to these capabilities for their exciting fusion programme.”
In July, First Light Fusion successfully fired the first test ‘shot’ on one of the six limbs of its newly-constructed pulsed power machine and swiftly proceeded to test three-limb shots in September. The full machine is currently being commissioned, ahead of schedule. Once fully commissioned, Machine 3 will be the only pulsed power machine of its scale in the world dedicated to researching fusion energy. It can discharge up to 200,000 volts and more than 14 million amperes – the equivalent of nearly 500 simultaneous lightning strikes – within two microseconds. The GBP3.6 million (USD4.6 million) machine will use some 3 kilometres of high-voltage cables and another 10 kilometres of diagnostic cables.
Machine 3 will be used to further research First Light Fusion’s technology as the company seeks to demonstrate first fusion next year.
First Light uses a high-velocity projectile to create a shockwave to collapse a cavity containing plasma inside a ‘target’. The design of these targets is First Light’s “technical USP”, the company said.
First Light Fusion was founded by Professor Yiannis Ventikos, who is currently the head of the Mechanical Engineering Department at University College, London, and Dr Nicholas Hawker, formerly an engineering lecturer at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford. The company was spun out from the University of Oxford in July 2011, with seed capital from IP Group plc, Parkwalk Advisors Ltd and private investors. Invesco and OSI provided follow-on capital.
UKAEA, a research organisation responsible for the development of nuclear, is an executive non-departmental public body of BEIS.