First Light Fusion, a UK-based company prominent in researching energy generation via inertial fusion, has raised $25 million from both existing and new investors. The funding round was led by Oxford Sciences Innovation (OSI) and includes IP Group plc and Hostplus.
The new funding will enable First Light to add 23 new employees across its science, engineering and simulation departments, expand its Oxford facilities and significantly upgrade computational and experimental resources. First Light will be able to accelerate other core work streams, including planning for its prototype gain-scale experiment and further grid-scale reactor development.
2020 has been a year of major developments at First Light, despite the impact of covid-19. The first ever high-resolution 3D x-ray tomography of First Light’s targets has been produced, showing how to improve target manufacturing in unprecedented detail. The company has also completed 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 kV and in excess of 14 million ampere – the equivalent of nearly 500 simultaneous lightning strikes – within two microseconds. Similar to a railgun, 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’, whereby the amount of energy created outstrips that used to spark the reaction. The company expects to demonstrate this, and a first-of-a-kind plant, in the 2030s.
Dr Nick Hawker, CEO of First Light Fusion said: “It is vital that as we progress towards achieving fusion, that we continue to advance our other workstreams so we can maintain momentum towards gain, but also delivering a workable grid-ready fusion reactor. We remain confident in our technology and excited about the potential of our unique approach, which we believe offers the best and fastest way to make fusion energy a reality.”