Friday, April 12, 2024

UK startup sets new pressure record with its novel nuclear fusion tech

First Light Fusion, a fusion startup company, has become the first private fusion company to “fire” a shot on the Sandia National Laboratories’ Z Machine in New Mexico, US.

‘Z Machine’ is the most powerful pulsed power facility in the world. The Z Machine has an incredible peak power of 80 trillion watts, which is more than the entire electricity grid of the world. It stores up to 22 megajoules of electrical energy in a series of capacitor banks and can release this energy in roughly 100 nanoseconds.

It is used to test the properties of materials at extreme pressures by electromagnetically launching projectiles at higher velocities than any other facility in the world. First Light Fusion has combined its amplifier technology with the Z Machine, breaking the facility’s long-standing pressure record.

First, Light is pursuing a unique form of inertial confinement fusion known as projectile fusion. This method involves compressing a fusion fuel-containing target through the impact of a high-speed projectile to create the extreme temperatures and pressures required for fusion to occur.

Unlike other mainstream fusion companies, First Light’s approach does not rely on complex, energy-intensive, and expensive lasers or magnets. This makes it a simpler, more cost-effective, and energy-efficient method of achieving fusion with lower physics risk.

The key to First Light’s approach is its amplifier technology, which is widely applicable across different driver technologies. The amplifier significantly increases the pressure delivered through the projectile’s impact, which is crucial for achieving fusion. In February, First Light successfully tested its unique amplifier technology by firing a projectile at it using Sandia’s Z Machine, which is known for its immense power.

First Light’s recent successful experiment at Sandia’s facility has set a new pressure record for quartz, raising it from 1.5 terapascal (TPa) to 1.85 TPa while also maintaining the necessary sample conditions for high-precision measurements. This achievement showcases the Sandia Lab’s world-renowned precision measurement capabilities.

The experiment also provided valuable insights into amplifier development, boosting the team’s confidence in its modeling and simulations. Additionally, the success of the shot confirms that First Light’s hydrodynamic amplification technology is effective when driven by different types of projectiles. This breakthrough enables the study of material behavior at extreme pressures previously unattainable in this facility, such as those found in planetary cores or inertial confinement fusion targets.

First Light is dedicated to improving the pressure even further as it explores the full potential of its exceptional amplifier technology. It is currently working on its next shot on the Z Machine, which is expected to take place at the end of this year. This UK-based fusion leader has been granted three shots in total on the Z Machine as part of its ongoing collaboration with the US-government-funded research organization.

“We are delighted to report that our first shot on the Z Machine was a resounding success – breaking the pressure record for the facility and further validating the value of First Light’s unique amplifier technology,” said Dr Nick Hawker, Founder & CEO of First Light Fusion. “Our ongoing partnership with Sandia and access to its state-of-the-art Z Machine enables us to test our unique amplifier technology at pressures we can’t access anywhere else in the world. To achieve success on the first shot is a testimony to the quality of our simulation, design, manufacturing, and experimental teams. Testing at higher pressures is incredibly important as we seek to push the limits of what our amplifiers can do. We look forward to breaking the pressure record again later this year.”