The UK Atomic Energy Authority (‘UKAEA’) and First Light Fusion (‘First Light’) have today signed an agreement for the design and construction of a new purpose-built facility to house First Light’s Machine 4 at UKAEA’s Culham Campus in Oxfordshire. First Light is pursuing an “inertial confinement” approach to fusion. First Light’s method leverages the same physics proven by NIF. First Light will fire a projectile at a fuel pellet to force it to fuse and produce energy instead of using powerful lasers. This approach has been validated by UKAEA.
Although the machine itself will not generate power, it will be used to develop the technology needed for future inertial confinement fusion energy powerplants.
Construction should start in 2024 and will begin operating in 2027. The 10,500-square-metre building will house the fusion machine which is expected to be commissioned in 2026. First Light Fusion has raised over $100 million.
There is a large amount of existing engineering that can be reused to make First Light Fusion plant. Fast breeder reactors, a type of nuclear plant, use liquid metal as the coolant, typically sodium or sodium-potassium mixture. The engineering from these plants can be ported over to lithium. After the lithium heat exchanger, the plant is identical to many other already working facilities. Most of the cost is low-risk engineering.
They are aiming for a power plant producing ~150 MW of electricity, firing once every 30 seconds, and costing less than $1 billion.
First Light Machine 4
First Light’s unique “inertial confinement” approach to achieving fusion involves compressing a target containing fusion fuel using a projectile travelling at a tremendous speed.
The Z-machine at Sandia National Labs (https://www.sandia.gov/z-machine/) is currently the largest ‘pulsed power’ machine in the world. It uses high magnetic fields associated with fast, intense electrical currents to produce high temperatures, high pressures, and powerful X-rays for research in high energy density physics.
Machine 4 will have a stored electrical energy of about 100 megajoules with the capability of launching projectiles at 60 kms per second. This speed on impact inside the target will accelerate to about 200kms per second as a result of First Light’s exclusive amplifier technology. The amplifier focuses the energy of the projectile into the fusion fuel, both boosting the pressure from impact to deliver to the fuel and shaping the waves to produce spherical implosions. The National Ignition Facility has given proof of viability for pulsed power to create a brief fusion ignition event. First Light’s current ‘pulsed power’ machine, Machine 3, launches a projectile at about 20kms per second.
First Light is aiming for net energy gain with Machine 4 with fuel gain of 100 or more. This machine is the building block for the pilot power plant, validating First Light’s simulation codes, while de-risking the design of high-gain targets for power production.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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2 thoughts on “First Light Fusion Has UK Government Backing for Its First Facility”
Endor amplifier? I don’t trust Ewok technology.
Z-machine is awesome. Moar charge and shorter rise time until you break the vacuum and make a Rick and Morty portal to another universe.
If FL makes more neutrons than Sandia, then they should get lots of funding. Shout out to fellow UofC grad Daniel Vassilev, a modest guy who talked about condensed matter physics, and now works at FL now trying to make the biggest hammer. I like the idea of throwing moar power at things.
It’s rather amazing that this impressive billion dollar machine can only store the amount of energy in ~2kg of diesel fuel or ~20kg TNT. That is the state of the art in power electronics: being able to store the energy content of half a gallon of petrol in a billion dollar capacitor.
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