UKAEA awards contracts to develop lithium technologies for fusion

20 December 2023

The United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) has awarded five organisations six contracts worth £7.4m ($9.4m) in total to develop lithium technology for fusion energy. Four universities and one company have received contracts ranging between £700,000 and £1.5m from UKAEA’s ‘Fusion Industry Programme’.

UKAEA launched the new Fusion Industry Programme challenge ‘Realising the potential of lithium in an economic, sustainable and scalable fusion energy fuel-cycle’ in early 2023, encouraging organisations to develop and evaluate prototypes of lithium technology.

Tim Bestwick, UKAEA’s Chief Development Officer, said: “The Fusion Industry Programme is encouraging the development of UK industrial fusion capacity and preparing the UK fusion industry for the future global fusion power plant market. The organisations that have been awarded these contracts have successfully demonstrated their lithium technology concepts and will now develop them to the ‘proof of concept’ stage.”

The latest contracts follow the award of Fusion Industry Programme contracts earlier in 2023, focused on digital engineering and fusion fuel requirements, and more recently materials and manufacturing, and heating and cooling technologies.

The organisations awarded contracts under Cycle Three, Phase Two, of the Fusion Industry Programme include:

  • Bangor University:?Lithium Isotope Microorganism Enrichment (LiME) - to identify optimum microbe for rapid and efficient 6Li removal. 
  • Frazer-Nash: Lithium Enrichment Prototype Project (LEPDOS) – to combine technical leadership from Frazer-Nash Consultancy Ltd and the University of Bristol to unlock innovative plasma-based technologies capable of meeting the enriched lithium needs of the UK and international fusion pilot-plant generation.
  • University of Bristol?(CENTRAL): Centrifugation applied to lithium isotope enrichment? - The University of Bristol supported by Urenco is proposing to modify and adapt existing centrifugation technologies for the purpose of isotopic enrichment of lithium.
  • University of Bristol?(LIBRA): Lithium Breeder Advancement through materials manufacture and testing - to evaluate the feasibility of 6LiD as a T breeding material in a thorough and accurate way, the approach is the establishment of a breeding blanket testing platform to perform tests under quasi-real operating conditions using fusion neutrons.
  • University of Edinburgh: Development of efficient continuous tritium capture and gaseous release through chemical control – to deliver the requirements of the tritium extraction theme by developing and demonstrating an integrated process capable of effective coupled tritium production and T2 gaseous extraction from a molten salt through chemical and environmental control, at the required efficiency, rate and robustness.
  • University of Manchester: Demonstration of a Viable Process for Li-6 Enrichment to Support Tritium Breeding - a lithium isotope enrichment process based on solvent extraction using crown ethers, which has been reported to exhibit promise but has only been studied using batchwise small-scale tests.

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