Breakthrough: Tencent-backed firm generates fusion energy with 'Big Friendly Gun'

accreditation
VCG via Getty Images

A UK startup backed by China’s Tencent proved a novel approach to generating fusion energy in a breakthrough that could slash the technology’s cost by providing cheap, clean nuclear fuel.

First Light Fusion. is among about two dozen startups trying to harness the power that makes stars shine. Some focused on building machines that hold fused atoms together, while the Oxford-based company concentrated on the fuel elements that catalyse the reaction.

First Light used a hypervelocity gun, which engineers call their “Big Friendly Gun,” to fire a projectile at 6.5 kilometers a second into a fuel target to generate energy. Each thimble-sized target, which is heated and compressed at extreme density, could release enough energy to power an average UK home for two years, the company said.

“We have identified a genuine route to commercial fusion,” First Light Chairman Bart Markus said in a statement. “Fusion must show it is more than an expensive science experiment.”

UK Atomic Energy Authority regulators confirmed the achievement.

Rather than splitting atoms like in traditional fission reactors, fusion plants seek to bind them together at temperatures 10 times hotter than the sun. Doing so releases huge quantities of carbon-free energy with no atomic waste.

Globally, more than $3 billion has poured into private fusion startups such as TAE Technologies Inc. and Commonwealth Fusion Systems in the U.S.

First Light, which also is backed by IP Group Plc and Oxford Sciences Innovation Plc, plans to manufacture the fuel targets for $10 to $20 each, and it’s working with UBS Investment Bank AG to explore “strategic options.”

“This pursuit of practical and affordable fusion will give us the clean and abundant baseload power that we so desperately need in our effort to address -- and hopefully reverse - global warming,” co-founder Yiannis Ventikos said.

Laboratories such as the $3.5 billion US National Ignition Facility have been inducing fusion for years by bombarding gold-encased exotic elements with high-energy lasers.

First Light worked to drive down costs by replacing lasers with gas guns and swapping out precious metals in the fuel. That approach is about 1,000 times cheaper, Chief Executive Officer Nicholas Hawker said.

“The physics is simpler,” Hawker said.


We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Rand - Dollar
16.27
-0.3%
Rand - Pound
19.81
-0.7%
Rand - Euro
17.05
-0.7%
Rand - Aus dollar
11.23
-0.6%
Rand - Yen
0.12
-0.9%
Gold
1,807.33
-0.6%
Silver
20.28
-2.2%
Palladium
1,938.00
-1.3%
Platinum
897.50
-2.2%
Brent Crude
116.26
-1.5%
Top 40
60,109
-2.4%
All Share
66,223
-2.3%
Resource 10
63,748
-3.2%
Industrial 25
79,405
-1.4%
Financial 15
14,686
-3.3%
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Company Snapshot