“The fastest, easiest and cheapest route to commercial fusion energy.”
That’s what Oxford University’s spinoff company First Light Fusion promises in its release.
Currently, the most common test equipment is the so-called tokamak reactors, donut-shaped vacuum chambers surrounded by strong magnets. In the center of the chamber is hydrogen plasma, which is held in place by electric currents of millions of amperes.
Tokamaks have a small problem: they take up more energy than they produce.
The fusion reactor at First Light Fusion is completely different. It’s based on a track cannon.
Deuterium pellets are fired with copper projectiles
Deuterium, or heavy hydrogen, is used as the fuel in the same way as in other fusion reactors.
Deuterium is packaged in pellets. A 38-millimeter copper projectile is fired at them at a speed of about 20 times the speed of sound.
The hit pellet is subjected to a pressure of about 100 gigapascals. The pellet is shaped so that the pressure is increased in the therapeutic cell. As the pellet collapses, the pressure continues to rise to about 100 therapeutic cells.
During the process, the pellet is compressed from a few millimeters to less than 100 micrometers. It is in such a dense form that a fusion reaction is initiated in the deuterium of the pellet.
The heat generated is recovered in a heat exchanger with liquid lithium as the medium.
The company says the merger with its method is going well. It says it is developing a pilot plant with a capacity of about 150 MW. First Light Fusion is estimated to cost less than a billion euros and will be completed in the 2030s.
An eternal promise
Fusion energy has been a promise for decades. Tens of billions of euros are spent on research around the world every year.
The benefits of the merger would be enormous. There is virtually unlimited fuel in nature, as hydrogen is the most common element. Deuterium, for example, is obtained from seawater as much as is needed, because about every 5,000 hydrogen atom is a deuterium atom.
In a fusion reaction, more energy is generated astronomically than in chemical reactions. One kilogram of hydrogen is chemically produced by burning about 119 megajoules. One kilogram of hydrogen in a fusion reaction produces more than five million times more: 600 terajoules.
The Sunday Times, among others, writes about the First Light Fusionin reactor.