Oxford fusion company teams up with global engineers to design reactor

First Light Fusion

First Light Fusion, an Oxford-based global leader in researching energy generation via inertial fusion, and Mott MacDonald, a global engineering, management and development consultancy, are working together to produce a design vision of a “first of a kind” (FOAK) commercial fusion reactor.

First Light Fusion was founded to address the urgent need to decarbonise the global energy system. First Light’s inertial confinement approach creates the extreme temperatures and pressures required for fusion by compressing a target using a projectile travelling at massive speed.

The company, which has met all its previous milestones, is on track to deliver first fusion in 2019 and to demonstrate ‘gain’ (whereby the energy created outstrips that used to spark the reaction) by 2024.

First Light’s approach to fusion, which is safe, clean and virtually limitless, has the potential to transform the world’s energy supply if it can be harnessed and applied to power generation. Unlike existing nuclear, there is no long-lived waste, no meltdown risk, and raw materials can be found in abundance.

Key to the overall First Light vision is to use existing know-how to help accelerate the pathway towards a commercially viable reactor. Mott MacDonald’s world-class expertise in power generation is instrumental in achieving this goal.

The ongoing work to realise a design comes at a vital time for the climate. A recent analysis conducted by system-change advisory and investment firm SYSTEMIQ, found that achieving a zero-carbon global energy system by 2050 will require significant investment in both existing renewables and new clean energy technologies. The analysis showed that while the maximum deployment of renewables is key to achieving the 2050 target, wind and solar power alone will not be able to meet projected energy demand, creating a market for clean baseload power to complement renewables.

This project brings the reality of fusion energy a step closer, by identifying key engineering challenges that First Light and its partners will address to deliver a detailed reactor design in the 2020s. The results are expected to be complete before the end of 2019.

Dr Nick Hawker, CEO of First Light Fusion said: “Fusion energy doesn’t just need to be scientifically feasible; it needs to be commercially viable. Mott MacDonald is one of the world’s leading power consultancies with a wealth of experience in energy generation and in fusion in particular, given their involvement with ITER. The work we are doing is an important step forward towards making fusion energy a reality. Identifying the engineering challenges of our unique and radically new technology is a fundamental milestone towards the vision of a commercially viable fusion power plant.”

Ian Baird, Managing Director, Nuclear at Mott MacDonald said:“Fusion energy is one of the great engineering and scientific challenges. We are excited to be working with First Light to help bring this vital technology towards commercialisation. We are impressed by their new approach, pragmatic collaborative culture and the scientific rigour. We expect a number of engineering hurdles, as we are dealing with a technology that has never been developed before, but the promise of clean and limitless energy is becoming a reality and we are proud to be part of this journey.”