First Light Fusion, an Oxford-based global leader 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 taking the total team to over 60 and allowing First Light to significantly upgrade computational and experimental resources. First Light will also use the new funding to accelerate other core workstreams, including planning for its prototype gain-scale experiment and further grid-scale reactor development. In addition, First Light has expanded its Oxford HQ by a further 11,000 square feet, to accommodate the enlarged team of scientists and engineers, and the new equipment.
2020 has been another 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 also took the opportunity to complete 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 200,000 volts and in excess of 14 million ampere – the equivalent of nearly 500 simultaneous lightning strikes – within two microseconds. Similar to a railgun, it’s 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.
Fusion is the ultimate source of the universe’s energy and is the same process that powers stars, including the Sun. First Light Fusion was founded to address the urgent need to decarbonise the global energy system. The company’s inertial confinement approach aims to create the extreme temperatures and pressures required for fusion by compressing a target using a projectile travelling at massive speed. First Light believes its technology can accelerate the pathway to a commercial grid-ready reactor by enabling a faster and more cost-efficient approach than other fusion schemes.
First Light’s ambitious programme of development remains on track. It expects to demonstrate “gain” (getting out more energy than went in) this decade, and a first-of-a-kind plant in the 2030s.
Dr Nick Hawker, CEO of First Light Fusion said:
“We are delighted to be further strengthening our partnership with both OSI and IP Group while welcoming new investors to the company. It is vital that as we progress towards achieving fusion, we continue to advance our other workstreams so we can maintain momentum towards both 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.”