Jacobs among recipients of fusion funding

Jacobs is among 18 organisations that have secured contracts with the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) to demonstrate how they can help make fusion energy a commercial reality.

MAST fusion energy machine at UKAEA's Culham Campus
MAST fusion energy machine at UKAEA's Culham Campus - SMD Photography

The contracts – feasibility studies from £50,000 up to £200,000 from a £3.1m pot of funding – are supported by the UKAEA’s Fusion Industry Programme and awarded through the government’s Small Business Research Initiative.

The projects will target specific challenges linked to the commercialisation of fusion energy, from novel fusion materials and manufacturing techniques through to innovative heating and cooling systems.

For their part, Jacobs will use their funding to create a liquid lithium testing facility at its Technology & Innovation Centre at Birchwood Park, Warrington.

The hydrogen isotope tritium is an essential fuel for fusion that can be produced during the fusion reaction through contact with lithium. There are, however, knowledge gaps surrounding the behaviour of lithium and the by-products of reactions used to produce it.

Areas for research at Jacobs’ new facility include examining the effect of oxygen, nitrogen and other impurities in lithium and the properties of lithium under fusion conditions; the development of instrumentation to measure lithium properties and other elements during the fuel breeding process; and the integration of multiple fuel cycle components.

According to Greg Willetts, Jacobs’ vice president for Technology, Consulting & Innovation, the new liquid lithium testing facility will serve developers of new fusion power technologies.

“It will be an important addition to Jacobs’ already considerable research capabilities, advancing our strategy to build an unrivalled understanding of the fusion fuel cycle from beginning to end, combined with advanced materials science capability and integrated engineering,” he said.

Announced in 2022, the Fusion Industry Programme is part of the government’s £484m support package for UK research. The Programme was allocated £42.1m as part of this package to stimulate innovation and to accelerate the development of the fusion industry.

Tim Bestwick, UKAEA’s chief technology officer, said: “In the past 12 months we have seen significant advances both in the UK and globally that demonstrate the potential for fusion energy to be a safe, low-carbon and sustainable part of the world’s future energy supply. However, there are a number of significant technical challenges to address for fusion energy to realise its potential. The Fusion Industry Programme is helping engage organisations and industrial partners to stimulate innovation and address these important challenges.”