First Light Fusion, a UK-based global leader in researching energy generation via inertial confinement fusion, is investing £3.6m (~€4.06) to build a pulsed power machine to advance the exploration of fusion, the ultimate source of energy.
The device – Machine 3 – is under construction by First Light Fusion and is on track to be commissioned by the end of 2018 and will be the only pulsed power machine of its scale in the world dedicated to researching fusion energy.
Machine 3 will be capable of discharging up to 200, 000 volts and in excess of 14 million ampere – the equivalent of 500 simultaneous lightning strikes – within two microseconds. It will also use some 3km of high voltage cables and another 10km of diagnostic cables.
What will Machine 3 be used for?
The machine will be used to further research First Light Fusion’s technology as the company seeks to achieve first fusion. Being able to achieve ‘gain’ is the next step in the technological development. Fusion is the ultimate source of the Universe’s energy and is the same process that powers stars, including the Sun.
First light uses a high-velocity projectile to create a shockwave to collapse a cavity containing plasma inside a ‘target’. The company’s approach was inspired by the only example of inertial confinement found on Earth – the pistol shrimp, which clicks its claw to produce a shockwave that stuns its prey.
The only other naturally occurring inertial confinement phenomenon is a supernova.
Nicholas Hawker, founder and CEO of First Light Fusion said: “Machine 3 will be a unique facility. There is nothing else like it in the world. The pressures and velocities that we will be able to access with this machine will massively extend the development of our fusion target designs. We are confident that we will reach our present goal of demonstrating fusion. Beyond that, the experiment platform that we can build with this machine will give us critical insights into the next step, which is to demonstrate gain.”
First Light’s approach to fusion energy, which is safe, clean and virtually limitless, has the potential to transform the world’s energy supply if it can be applied to power generation. Unlike existing nuclear power, there is no long-lived waste and raw materials can be found easily. As demand for alternatives to carbon-based energy grows, mainstream scientists and research institutions are looking to fusion power to answer the world’s energy requirements.
Ultimately, First Light Fusion’s aim is to achieve gain before seeking to demonstrate the commercial viability of the technology to produce safe, efficient and environmentally friendly baseload energy around the world.