Oxford-based First Light Fusion has announced a new technical partnership aimed at rapidly advancing towards a pilot plant based on its projectile fusion technology, while also addressing the need for tritium harvesting.

First Light has partnered with Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) for the preliminary design of a system capable of extracting tritium from the First Light reactor, as well as the development of tritium processing and storage options.

FLF is also working with Spanish engineering giant IDOM on the design of its fusion reactor chamber. This chamber will include a unique liquid lithium wall, which will absorb the neutrons caused by the reaction caused by the impact of the projectile into the target, or fuel.

The proposed 60 MW pilot plant has been designed to minimise the barriers to a first-of-a-kind (FOAK) commercial power plant, while reducing overall costs and engineering risk. It is also intended to accelerate the development of a secure supply of tritium, by enabling a revenue-generating pilot plant with less stringent engineering requirements.

Central to the design of the pilot plant is the recognition of the need to address the requirement for new tritium production. The need for tritium and deuterium for the fusion reaction is universal across all fusion technologies. Deuterium is both cheap and abundant, extracted from seawater. However, tritium exists naturally only in trace amounts in the upper atmosphere, the product of cosmic ray bombardment. Though nuclear reactors also produce tiny amounts, it is not generally “harvested”.

A number of fusion pioneers, including First Light’s projectile approach, include tritium breeding into their models. However, the challenge of tritium production has forced some fusion concepts to consider much more challenging fuels that avoid the use of tritium, significantly increasing the physics risk.

First Light’s “liquid lithium wall” approach, inside the reactor chamber where the fusion reaction will take place, gives it an inherent advantage in tritium production. The fusion reaction is surrounded by liquid lithium, allowing tritium self-sufficiency to be easily reached, and making it possible to design for excess tritium production.

First Light believes that by accelerating the development of a smaller pilot plant that also provides a steady tritium supply, this will stimulate the faster roll out of fusion power, and provide a shorter time frame between pilot plant and commercial fusion.

Dr Nick Hawker, Co-founder and CEO of First Light Fusion, said:

“Our pilot plant is designed to prove the integrated engineering for electricity generation and manufacture of tritium. We recognise the need to address the shortage of tritium. By accelerating our plan for a pilot plant, we are directly addressing this key barrier to the more widespread take up of fusion power, while also building an immediate and sizeable revenue stream into our business model. We are developing at pace now and look forward to sharing details of our gain experiment, Machine 4, very soon.”

CNL Vice-President Science & Technology Dr Jeff Griffin said:

First Light’s unique projectile approach to fusion energy creates a compelling route to achieving tritium production. We are proud to be working with First Light to develop a system that can address this challenge and to help accelerate the journey towards commercial fusion power."

Image: The proposed 60 MW fusion pilot plant (courtesy of First Light Fusion)