UK set to make nuclear fusion breakthrough and get ‘limitless’ energy

Nuclear fusion: UK experiment centre explained by expert

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A UK-based company’s “different” approach to nuclear fusion could mean that Britons could be powered by a “lower cost”, near limitless source of energy by 2035, Express.co.uk was told. Earlier this month, nuclear fusion technology achieved a milestone moment, after researchers at the Nuclear Security and National Nuclear Security Administrations Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Washington announced that they successfully cracked the code and created a nuclear fusion reaction which produced more energy than it used up, using an inertial confinement fusion (ICF) reactor.

This procedure uses a system of lasers to heat up fuel pellets producing a plasma – a cloud of charged ions. The fuel pellets contain “heavy” versions of hydrogen–deuterium and tritium that are easier to fuse and produce more energy.

However, Tokamak Energy, a UK-based nuclear fusion firm, is looking to achieve the ultimate goal of near limitless clean energy through a different approach, which it says has advantages in cost and efficiency. 

Speaking to Express.co.uk, Chris Kelsall, the CEO of Tokamak said that his firm uses magnetic confinement fusion, which involves using what is known as a neutral beam injector to heat two variants of hydrogen, the lightest element of the periodic table.

By heating up deuterium and tritium to around 100 million degrees, these hydrogen isotopes accelerate at higher speeds, collide, and fuse to form helium, with one spare neutron, which according to Mr Kelsall carries 80 percent of the excess energy that arising from this collision that’s released from this reaction.

He added: “That’s what we harvest ultimately as heat energy to convert into industrial applications in sectors like iron and steel, cement, synthetic fuels, petrochemicals, desalination.

“60 percent of our target market is power and electricity markets, which need to be significantly electrified. So what we’re talking about now is the final commercial rollout that we would expect the first of its kind to be ready from around 2035.”

The main difference between the two approaches to nuclear fusion is that Tokamak uses very powerful magnets through high-temperature barium-copper oxide superconductors.

He said: “By passing a current through barium-copper oxide superconductors, we can create super strong magnetic fields in a ring-doughnut shape that contain this superheated plasma of deuterium and tritium, and we then can produce these fusion reactions efficiently.”

This method has the benefit of having a “low capital cost to build the plant, we have low operating costs, and we put relatively less energy in for the amount of energy that comes out.

Additionally, the company also uses a spherical tokamak, which is a vacuum device that seals in the plasma that’s being suspended. They note this shape has “intrinsical advantages to the traditional tokamak”, which is more shaped like a rugby ball when seen from the side. 

Mr Kelsall said: “It means that it has a lower cost to run and operate, it has more energy efficiency, and that’s firstly because of the high bootstrap fraction, which means that once the plasma is up and running, we need less energy to sustain the reaction.”

He added that the high bootstrap fraction allows their spherical tokamak to become largely self-sustaining in terms of the energy that’s contained and supporting the optimal fusion conditions. 

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He added: “The second advantage is what’s called a high beta, that we have very strong magnetic fields, so we have better control and confinement, so we can have more compact, lower cost confinements, 

“Rather than the giant ITER device in southern France, we have a much smaller 500MW device for global deployment is our target size for future energy markets.” 

Nuclear fusion reactions involve “fusing” atoms of hydrogen together instead of splitting large atoms apart, generating vast amounts of energy in the process.

As the world scrambles to end its reliance on fossil fuels – Russian or otherwise – the energy generated from nuclear fusion has been tipped to help create a near-limitless source of power.

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