The United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) and Japan’s Kyoto Fusioneering (KF) have signed a collaboration agreement to develop fusion related technologies. The first project will involve the development of a ‘fusion-grade’ silicon carbide composite system (SiC/SiC), which can be used as a structural material inside a fusion machine. The work will explore the stability of the composite under simulated fusion conditions.

Using SiC/SiC composites within the breeder blanket of a fusion machine could increase the efficiency and commercial viability of fusion power stations by providing a material that operates at high-temperatures and is resistant to neutron damage. The Self-Cooled Yuryo Lithium Lead Advanced (SCYLLA) blanket developed by KF is compatible with the lithium-lead based coolant and fuel breeding fluids. Novel materials may enable and improve compatibility with the corrosive lithium lead.

KF has expertise in the design, experimentation, and manufacturing of silicon carbide materials and experience in making the raw materials for SiC/SiC. The company also manufactures silicon carbide composite components, both in-house and in industrial processes. However, examination of irradiated composites requires a suitable active testing facility and KF is looking to UKAEA’s Materials Research Facility (MRF) for support.

Scientists and engineers at MRF are experienced in material irradiation and the handling of activated materials. New Post Irradiation Examination (PIE) methods are being developed by UKAEA to understand changes in micro-structual properties of the SiC/SiC samples caused by radiation damage. As SiC/SiC is a fibre-reinforced composite, novel methods are needed to extract useful material properties.

Kyoto Fusioneering CEO Taka Nagao said: “The several contracts we have with UKAEA have demonstrated the win-win relationship that can create new value for the society and fusion research and fusion industry.” He added that KF would continue to build on the collaboration to help achieve industrialisation of fusion energy. “The development of a ‘fusion-grade’ silicon carbide composite system is not only a huge advancement to the realisation of commercial fusion, but also yet another advantage of the blanket system.”

UKAEA CEO Professor Sir Ian Chapman explained that putting fusion electricity on the grid will require finding and integrating solutions to several major challenges. “We will be working with Kyoto Fusioneering on finding solutions to some of those challenges. The ground-breaking research and innovation being done in the UK, and with our partners across the globe, aims to make fusion a reality which could be transformative for energy security and climate change.”

UKAEA has awarded KF has several contracts to provide its expertise and services, most notably as a member of the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) Interim Engineering Delivery Partner consortium. KF was also selected as Tier 1 supplier in 2021 under the UKAEA Tritium Engineering Framework for the STEP fuel cycle.

UKAEA’s programmes, in Culham (Oxford) include the MAST-Upgrade (Mega Amp Spherical Tokamak) fusion experiment and the JET (Joint European Torus) fusion research facility, operated for scientists from around Europe. STEP (Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production) is UKAEA’s ambitious programme to accelerate the delivery of fusion energy, with plans to deliver a prototype powerplant producing net electricity in the 2040s based in Nottinghamshire.

Kyoto Fusioneering is a privately funded Japanese technology start-up founded in 2019, based in Tokyo and Kyoto. It also has offices in Reading (UK) and Seattle (USA). The company is focused on developing advanced technologies for commercial fusion reactors, including gyrotron systems, tritium fuel cycle technologies, and breeding blankets for tritium production and power generation.

Image (courtesy of UKAEA): A specimen of ‘fusion grade’ silicon carbide composite made by KF in Japan is handed over to UKAEA for experimentation. L-R: Dr Alex Leide (UKAEA), Dr Max Rigby-Bell (UKAEA), George Clark (UKAEA), Dr James Wade-Zhu (UKAEA), Andy Wilson (Kyoto Fusioneering), Vojna Ngjeqari (Kyoto Fusioneering)