First Light Fusion, General Fusion Highlight Technical and Funding Progress

1. First Light has laser inertial fusion in a pulsed process. It is like an internal combustion engine. Each target releases a large amount of energy; the power output is the energy per shot multiplied by the frequency. A pulsed approach gives great design flexibility, trading off energy per shot and frequency. Our aim is the lowest risk plant design possible. High energy per shot reduces physics risk, and slower frequency and small overall plant size reduce the engineering risk.

This animation shows a view of the reaction vessel in the First Light Fusioh reactor concept. The target is dropped into the reaction chamber from above, falling under gravity. The projectile is launched downwards on top of the target and catches it up in the centre of the chamber. The impact is focused by the target and a pulse of fusion energy is released. That energy is absorbed by the lithium flowing inside the vessel, heating it up. The lithium protects the vessel from damage, allowing it to last for the whole lifetime of the plant without replacement.

Emre Yildirim, PhD student at the University of Manchester, updates us on the latest in fusion energy news worldwide.

2. TAE (aka Trialpha Energy) Technologies Wins $17.4M CalCompetes Grant

TAE’s sixth research reactor, called Copernicus, is being constructed in California and is expected to achieve a crucial fusion milestone of demonstrating the viability of net energy generation around mid-decade. Copernicus will be the penultimate step on TAE’s path to commercializing clean fusion power by the early 2030s.

TAE Technologies (pronounced T-A-E) was founded in 1998 to develop commercial fusion power with the cleanest environmental profile. The company’s pioneering work represents the fastest, most practical, and economically competitive solution to bring abundant clean energy to the grid. With over 1,800 patents filed globally and over 1,100 granted, $1.2 billion in private capital raised, five generations of National Laboratory-scale devices built and two more in development, and an experienced team of over 400 employees.

3. BEIS commits over £120 million to spearhead nuclear fusion innovation

The Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has committed over £120 million to spearhead nuclear fusion innovation and boost energy security prospects for the future. The funding will also accelerate the rollout of nuclear power with the British Energy Security Strategy having set a new target of up to 24GW by 2050.

£42.1 million has been allocated to the Fusion Industry Programme. This programme aims to galvanise the UK fusion sector through a challenge fund, designed to engage and support UK businesses in important technical challenges of fusion.

£84 million has also been allocated for Joint European Torus (JET) Operations. This will support JET, the “world’s largest and most powerful fusion experimentation”, BEIS said, in a bid to continue operations which will provide new insights and support for other UK fusion programmes such as Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP).

4. CNL(Canadian Nuclear Laboratories) and First Light Fusion partner to explore tritium extraction technologies. CNL has a long and extensive history in the development of technologies and systems to safely manage tritium, given their presence in CANDU® fission reactors. CANDU reactors are the primary source of the world’s Tritium.

CNL(Canadian Nuclear Laboratories) and Canada’s General Fusion have set goal of commercial fusion by 2030.

General Fusion’s Magnetised Target Fusion technology involves injecting hydrogen plasma into a liquid metal sphere, where it is compressed and heated so that fusion occurs. The company is building a demonstration plant at the UK Atomic Energy Agency’s Culham Campus in England, which it says will validate the performance and economics of the technology prior to the construction of a pilot commercial power plant.

The collaboration will leverage the capabilities of CNL’s Chalk River Laboratories.

I have covered General Fusion a lot over the years, including an interview with the CEO. They are the ones working on massive pistons striking a chamber with liquid metal.

General Fusion’s magnetized target fusion system uses a ~3 meter sphere filled with a mix of molten liquid lead and lithium. The liquid is spun, creating a vertical cavity in the centre of the sphere. This vortex flow is established and maintained by an external pumping system. Liquid flows into the sphere through tangentially directed ports at the equator and exits radially through ports near the poles of the sphere.

A plasma injector is attached to the top of the sphere, from which a pulse of magnetically confined deuterium-tritium plasma fuel is injected into the center of the vortex. A few milligrams of gas are used per pulse. The gas is ionized by a bank of capacitors to form a spheromak plasma (self-confined magnetized plasma rings) composed of the deuterium–tritium fuel.

The outside of the sphere is covered with steam pistons, which push the liquid metal and collapse the vortex, thereby compressing the plasma. The compression increases the density and temperature of the plasma to the range where the fuel atoms fuse, releasing energy in the form of fast neutrons and alpha particles.

Pistons for plasma compression
This energy heats the liquid metal, which is then pumped through a heat exchanger to generate electricity via a steam turbine. The plasma forming and compressing process repeats and the liquid metal is continuously pumped through the system. Some of the steam is recycled to power the pistons.

The liquid metal liner shields the power plant structure from neutrons released by the deuterium-tritium fusion reaction, overcoming the problem of structural damage to plasma-facing materials. The lithium in the mixture breeds tritium.

5. Covering a cylinder with a magnetic coil triples its energy output in nuclear fusion test.

Researchers at LLNL Nationak Ignition Facility modified their the cylinder. They switched from gold to an alloy of gold and tantalum. Placing it in a strong magnetic field would create an electric current strong enough to tear the cylinder apart if it was gold. They also switched the gas from hydrogen to deuterium (another kind of hydrogen), then covered the whole works with a tesla magnetic field using a coil. Then they fired up the lasers. The researchers saw an immediate improvement—the hot spot on the sphere went up by 40% and the energy output was tripled.

3 thoughts on “First Light Fusion, General Fusion Highlight Technical and Funding Progress”

  1. Very glad indeed, helion fusion has just posted something interested too. Search it. And indeed stop the elon musk forum, it holds me to visit here more and more.

  2. Agree with Goldfinch. We want this kind of news, no Tesla/Twiter minor irrelevant news.

    Btw. Musk just sold another big chunk of his Tesla shares. This is not worthy news for an article, but barely a random comment. Point is, Tesla is going down, because of Musk stupid behaviour on Twitter, he says ton of stupid things. QMusk stuff etc. He lost millions of potential customers(leftist and also centrist California,NY residends – majority of his customer base in US) and his ratings are going down.

    I don’t see a genius in this man.

  3. Good stuff Brian. It was searching for fusion news that drew me to NextBigFuture originally. This is far more interesting than Twitter changing its certified icon from green to blue.

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