An Oxford-based start-up has claimed a major breakthrough in the quest to crack nuclear fusion, the “holy grail” of power generation.
First Light Fusion has succeeded in carrying out the reaction using its unique projectile method for the first time, in its Kidlington laboratory.
He says the method is simpler and more energy efficient than competing approaches, and has reached this point at a record rate of progress.
Dr Nick Hawker, co-founder and chief executive, said the company was on an “incredible journey of discovery” and had already improved the process while regulators validated the results.
“It’s a fundamentally new way to approach fusion and it validates our simulations,” he said.
“If we can get this basic process working, the majority of the rest of the power plant can be built with existing technology. So it’s potentially a much faster trajectory to commercial fusion.”
First Light Fusion is currently developing further experiments, including the central unresolved challenge of nuclear fusion: how to produce more energy than was used to initiate the reaction.
It hopes to build a 150 megawatt pilot power plant in the 2030s and is working with UBS, the Swiss bank, on its development plans.
Born out of the University of Oxford in 2011, First Light Fusion is among the pioneers of the global race to produce energy through nuclear fusion. It offers the prospect of abundant, clean energy by replicating the process that powers the sun.
Work on generating power from nuclear fusion has been underway for decades but always seemed a distant prospect given the technical challenges involved.
Nuclear fusion requires the fusion of two atoms at extremely high temperatures, which is extremely difficult but can be achieved using magnetic fields or by compressing a fuel pellet.
First Light Fusion’s approach is based on the latter and involves using a 22-meter gas gun to fire a 100g projectile at 6.5 km per second – about 20 times the speed of sound – at the pellet containing tritium and deuterium.
The company ultimately wants to develop power stations in which the process is repeated every 30 seconds, with each pellet, each measuring a few millimetres, generating enough energy to power an average UK home for more than two years.
He thinks he could eventually produce electricity for less than $50 (£38) per megawatt hour, which would make him competitive with renewables.
In February, the company raised $45 million from backers including Chinese tech giant Tencent.
Its breakthrough comes after researchers at the JET laboratory in Culham, near Oxford, set a record in February for the amount of fusion energy produced.
The researchers reached 59 megajoules of sustained fusion energy, well above the 22 megajoules achieved in 1997, but only enough to boil about 60 kettles.
By comparison, the amount produced by First Light Fusion was very small, but the milestone is to achieve fusion using its new process.
Professor Yiannis Ventikos, co-founder of First Light Fusion and Head of UCL’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, said: “This pursuit of practical and affordable fusion will give us the clean and abundant core power that we desperately need. in our efforts to respond to – and hopefully reverse – global warming.
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This notice was published: 2022-04-05 05:00:00