First Light Fusion, a leading inertial fusion start-up, is bringing forth a novel and simpler approach to inertial fusion known as projectile fusion. This approach is not only more energy-efficient but also poses lower physics risk, making it a groundbreaking advancement in the field of fusion energy. The cornerstone of this approach is First Light's unique new target technology, which has been substantiated through a world-first result, demonstrating fusion with a projectile for the first time.
The mission of First Light Fusion is simplicity, as the company aims to solve the problem of fusion power with the most straightforward machine possible. The core process is designed to be simpler, and the technology is compatible with existing power plant engineering. The company believes that it's not sufficient to just solve the physics; the world requires a technology that can scale.
One of First Light's key technologies lies in its unique target designs. These designs consist of two main components: the amplifier and the fuel capsule. The amplifier increases the pressure of the projectile impact and generates convergence, which focuses shockwaves onto the fuel capsule. This technique embodies an innovative method of energy production in the fusion landscape.
To launch the projectile that impacts the target, First Light uses its custom drivers. Initially, two-stage gas guns are used to test target designs, but these have a velocity limit. To exceed this limit, the company relies on electromagnetic launch, a technique achieved with their pulsed power machines, similar to a railgun.
First Light's approach is also characterized by rapid iteration, which is made possible by their advanced simulation tools. These tools underpin the company's research efforts, enabling rapid design optimization. Verification and validation are highly emphasized, with the company continually comparing their results against an ever-increasing body of experimental data.
When it comes to the power plant concept, First Light proposes to use a liquid first wall, with pure natural lithium serving as the working fluid. This concept can be built using existing nuclear technology and circumvents some of the substantial engineering challenges of fusion, such as neutron damage and tritium production.
First Light also recently announced a partnership that will allow them to generate revenues making medical isotopes with the neutrons generated from fusion reactions.
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Sources: Company website, Fusion Industry Association Annual Report 2022