Engineers in England have achieved nuclear fusion by firing a giant cannon at a fuel sample.
Researchers at First Light Fusion designed the method to be as simple as possible, and a viable alternative to the donut-shaped reactors called Tokamaks that are currently at the forefront of fusion technology.
First Light Fusion’s approach to nuclear fusion energy is a type known as inertial fusion, in which a fuel pellet is compressed and heated so quickly that particles fuse together in the few nanoseconds before the fuel blows apart.
Usually, inertial fusion is achieved by focusing an intense laser beam or particle beam onto the pellet.
However, the company is taking a different approach by firing a projectile at it at about 14,500 miles per hour, temporarily producing a pressure equal to 100 million times that of Earth’s atmosphere, higher than the pressure. at the center of the planet Jupiter.
In a power plant, the fuel pellet would be dropped into the reactor from above and the projectile would then be fired directly behind it.
This allows for only one entry hole and the use of fluids that help protect the reaction chamber from the massive energy release – a technical hurdle that other fusion approaches have to overcome.
Lithium, flowing into the reaction chamber, is then heated by the energy released as a result of the fusion reaction. This heat is transferred to water, which turns into steam, which spins a turbine to produce electricity.
The whole process would then be repeated every 30 seconds, with each reaction producing enough energy to power an average UK home for over two years.
On April 5, 2022, the company announced that it had achieved fusion using this method and believes it provides the fastest and cheapest route to commercial fusion power.
It now plans to conduct another experiment in which it produces more energy as a result of the reaction than it will use to produce the reaction — another huge fusion hurdle.
The company also plans to develop a pilot plant in the 2030s that will produce approximately 150 MW of electricity.
“If we can get nuclear physics to work, which I think we can, it may have a much faster trajectory to a power plant,” said Nick Hawker, founder of First Light Fusion. The times newspaper about the projectile approach. “The engineering is much simpler. The physics is simpler.”
First Light Fusion is located in Oxford, not far from the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s Joint European Torus (JET) facility, which produced a record-breaking 59 megajoules of sustainable fusion energy earlier this year using an entirely different approach.
The JET facility uses a tokamak reactor that heats gas until it turns into a plasma and uses large, very powerful magnets to suspend this plasma in a circle.