The UK’s First Light Fusion, an Oxford-based research company focusing on inertial fusion, said on 23 December that it had raised $25 million from both existing and new investors. The funding round was led by Oxford Sciences Innovation (OSI) and includes IP Group and Hostplus.
The new funding will enable First Light to add 23 new employees across its science, engineering and simulation departments taking the total team to over 60 and allowing the company to significantly upgrade computational and experimental resources.
First Light will also use the new funding to accelerate other core workstreams, including planning for its prototype gain-scale experiment and further grid-scale reactor development. In addition, First Light has expanded its Oxford HQ by a further 11,000 square feet, to accommodate the enlarged team of scientists and engineers, and the new equipment.
The company's inertial confinement approach aims to create the extreme temperatures and pressures required for fusion by compressing a target using a projectile travelling at massive speed. First Light believes its technology can accelerate the pathway to a commercial grid-ready reactor by enabling a faster and more cost-efficient approach than other fusion schemes.
In 2020, the first ever high-resolution 3D x-ray tomography of First Light's targets was produced, showing how to improve target manufacturing in unprecedented detail. The company also complete a major upgrade of its unique pulsed power device, "Machine 3", the biggest pulsed power machine in the world dedicated to researching fusion energy. Machine 3 is capable of discharging up to 200,000 volts and in excess of 14 million ampere within two microseconds. It is designed to use electromagnetism to fire projectiles at around 20km/s into a "target" to create the conditions necessary to achieve fusion.
The completed upgrades to Machine 3 have dramatically improved the delivery of the electrical current (ie. getting more current into the load to force the acceleration of the projectile), while also improving the repeatability of the machine (enabling First Light to more rapidly deliver new experimental "shots"). First Light has already started a new shot campaign with the upgraded device.
The next step in the technological development will be to achieve gain, in which the amount of energy created outstrips that used to spark the reaction. First Light said its ambitious programme of development remains on track. It expects to demonstrate "gain" this decade, and a first-of-a-kind plant in the 2030s.
A new peer-reviewed scientific paper authored by Dr Nicholas Hawker, founder of First Light Fusion, published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in December, demonstrates that inertial confinement fusion could deliver a Levelised Cost Of Energy (LCOE) as low as $25/MWh when the technology has matured. This compares with approximately $100/MWh for nuclear energy and up to $50/MWh for onshore wind (including costs for managing the intermittency of renewables), First Light Fusion said.