First Light working with UKAEA on “fusion island” concept

Oxford University spin-out First Light Fusion is working with researchers at the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s (UKAEA) Culham laboratory on a project to convert nuclear fusion reactions into heat.

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Rendering of First Light Fusion’s M3 machine. Image: First Light Fusion

The company is planning to achieve fusion – which has the potential to transform the world’s energy supply – by the middle of 2019 and has said that it hopes to demonstrate technology capable of generating more energy than that required to create fusion reactions by 2024.

First Light hopes that its work with UKAEA, which is being funded in part by a BEIS Energy Entrepreneurs Fund, will mark a key step towards this goal, through the development of “a fusion island” concept, a sub-system that converts fusion energy into heat and manages fuel supply in a fusion power plant.

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Culham is home to JET, which is currently the world’s largest Tokomak experiment. Image:CCFE

First Light’s technology 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.

In July, it 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.

Once fully commissioned, Machine 3 will be the only pulsed power machine of its scale in the world dedicated to researching fusion energy. Machine 3 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 £3.6m machine will use some 3km of high voltage cables and another 10km of diagnostic cables.

Commenting on the collaboration First Light Fusion CEO Nick Hawker said: “We are excited to work together with UKAEA on the fusion island concept. UKAEA are the world’s foremost experts in fusion and fusion enabling technologies and they are our ideal partners for this exciting project.”

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.”