The Atomic Energy Authority is diverting resources once earmarked for fusion power experiments, and transferring the technology and knowhow into UK industry in a new series of commercial ventures.
While fusion power will not be commercialised for at least another 30 years, the government wants to see quicker returns on its investment into this kind of fundamental science research.
The UKAEA’s Culham science centre, where fusion research takes place, has a new programme called ‘Fusion and Industry’. It aims to encourage UK industry to bid for international fusion contracts and use the centre’s own advanced technology and personnel to exploit fusion research spin-offs with business.
Fusion and industry programme manager Cleve Forty said: ‘We want to maximise the impact of the technical support offered by working with companies who’ll benefit most from the package.’ He also wants to see a cultural transfer from the business world to his researchers to enable them to recognise the commercial potential in their research and ideas.
Forty would like to have 25 companies working on products from fusion research developments. He also expects Culham fusion scientists to provide consultancy services to these companies for a total of around 50 days a year, with an estimated annual cost to UKAEA of around £25,000.
Technologies the programme expects to exploit include plasma, precision engineering, powerful magnets, high voltage power supply, and vacuum systems.
But plasma is the centre’s strongest area of expertise. Its fusion experiments deal with ionised gas at a temperature of 200 million °C, more than 10 times as hot as the centre of the sun.
The technical consultancy will include the research team’s electrical, mechanical and electronic engineering skills, computer modelling, plasma technology and diagnostics, and cryogenic and microwave systems.
The centre is also working with David Kingham, managing director of Oxford Innovation, which manages innnovation centres and has been advising UKAEA on potential start-ups.