British start-up achieves ‘projectile fusion’ breakthrough.

A British start-up pioneering a new approach to fusion power has successfully combined atomic nuclei, in what the UK regulator called an important step in the decades-long effort to generate electricity from the reaction that powers the sun.

Oxford-based First Light Fusion, which has been developing an approach called projectile fusion since 2011, said it produced energy in the form of neutrons by forcing isotopes of deuterium to fuse, years of research confirms.

While other fusion experiments have longer produced more power, either through the use of “tokamak” machines or high-powered lasers, First Light says its approach, in which a projectile is fired at a target containing the fuel, is a faster route to commercialization Fusion could provide energy.

“The value of it [result] is that it potentially offers a much cheaper and much easier way to generate electricity,” Chief Executive Nicholas Hawker said.

To achieve fusion, First Light used a hypervelocity gas cannon to fire a projectile at a speed of 4 miles per second – about 10 times faster than a rifle bullet – at a tiny target, amplifying the energy of the impact and destroying it Impact should force deuterium fuel to melt.

The design of the target – a transparent cube just over a centimeter wide enclosing two spherical fuel capsules – is the key technology and is closely guarded by the company. “It’s the ultimate espresso capsule‘ Hawker told the Financial Times last year.

First Light, which is backed by China’s Tencent, hopes to manufacture the targets and sell them to future power plants – built to its design – which would need to vaporize one every 30 seconds to generate continuous power.

These power plants could rely heavily on existing technology, potentially making them cheaper than other potential fusion approaches, Hawker said.

Ian Chapman, chief executive of the UK Atomic Energy Agency, which validated the results, called the results “another important step forward”.

“Fusion promises to be a secure, low-carbon and sustainable part of the world’s future energy supply and we support all advances in this grand scientific and engineering challenge,” he said.

Scientists have been successfully conducting fusion experiments since the 1950s, but have been unable to extract more energy from a fusion reaction than the systems consume.

Most current fusion technologies are based on the “tokamak” design developed by Soviet scientists, which uses powerful magnets to hold a plasma of two hydrogen isotopes – usually deuterium and tritium – in place while it is heated to temperatures which are hotter than the sun, causing the atomic nuclei to fuse.

Unlike nuclear fission, the splitting of atoms during fusion produces no significant radioactive waste. It produces no CO2 emissions and a small glass of fuel could theoretically power a home for hundreds of years.

In February, a team of government-backed European researchers produced 59 megajoules from a sustained five-second reaction — enough energy to boil over 60 kettles – in an experiment on a tokamak machine at the Joint European Torus facility in Oxford, England. But that was still less energy than the system used.

First Light, this is one of several Private merger companies currently looking for commercial energy, said his next goal is to demonstrate net energy gain from a reaction before a 50-megawatt pilot plant is developed in the 2030s at a cost of less than $1 billion.

The company has raised about $60 million so far and raised another $45 million from investors including Tencent in February. British start-up achieves ‘projectile fusion’ breakthrough.

Adam Bradshaw

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