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5th March 2020, Clacton on Sea, Essex

Dura fabricates composites for leading fusion researchers

© First Light Fusion.© First Light Fusion.​

Leading supplier of composite products, Dura Composites, is supporting clean energy goals by fabricating composite structures for leading UK fusion research company. First Light Fusion is an Oxford-based research company and provides the ultimate source of the universe's energy.

“The goal of the First Light Fusion team is to not only devise a strategy for how to make fusion energy work in practice, but also to develop a sustainable business model based on the technology. While the physics of fusion are relatively simple, it’s incredibly challenging to replicate the massive pressures and temperatures required while keeping generation costs at an economically viable level,” Dura Composites said in a communication this morning.

“The company’s approach is to achieve inertial fusion by using shockwaves. It was inspired by the only example of inertial confinement found on Earth – the pistol shrimp, which clicks its claw to produce a shockwave that stuns its prey. The water around its claw forms a cavity, and the air and water inside is super-heated to form a plasma. This process is known as inertial confinement, a natural phenomenon only otherwise seen in supernovas.”

In its quest to replicate the pistol shrimp’s shockwaves and collapse targets to achieve inertial confinement of plasma, First Light Fusion devised a pulsed power device, known as Machine 3 in 2018.

Machine 3 has a structure which was fabricated from non-conductive and non-corrosive Glass Reinforced Polymer (GRP) by composite fabricators at Dura Composites and is capable of discharging 200,000 volts and in excess of 14 million amperes within two microseconds. The ‘shot’, which is equivalent to around 500 simultaneous lightning strikes, fires a projectile at a small target containing a tiny amount of fuel, collapsing a cavity and superheating the plasma in an attempt to achieve fusion.

Commenting on the project, Paul Holligan, Head of Pulsed Power at First Light Fusion, said: “By incorporating a non-conducting material in the structural elements of M3, we greatly reduced the design risk and allowed enhanced performance when dealing with extremely high voltages and an architecture of this type. Dura Composites offered an excellent product and exceptional support through all stages from design to installation. We were looking for suppliers who shared our vision and dedication, and Dura Composites delivered and contributed to the success of this high-profile project.”

The structure was fabricated from Dura Composites’ GRP Dura Profile range, which includes Angle, Channel, Beam, Box and Tube sections.  Weighing around 50% less than steel, Dura Profile offers equivalent performance for considerably less weight. This results in major cost savings due to more economical transportation, handling and on-site fitting. It is fast becoming the material of choice for work platforms, ladders, hand railing, cable trays, flow sub-structures and more, thanks to its corrosion-resistant, high strength, low weight, non-conductive and UV resistant characteristics.

© First Light Fusion.© First Light Fusion.

Machine 3 has now been fully commissioned following successful testing and is the biggest pulsed power machine in the world dedicated to researching fusion energy. It will be used to further research First Light Fusion's technology as the company seeks to achieve first fusion in 2020 and the “holy grail” of energy gain in the following years.

If energy gain can be achieved, First Light plans to deploy its first power plants in the 2030s, while it strongly advocates the deployment of renewable sources at the maximum possible rate, Dura explains.

Speaking about Dura Composites’ role in fabricating the structure which houses the M3 Machine, Chris Tate, Commercial Fabrication Manager of Dura Composites said: “This was an amazing project to be part of. First Light Fusion’s vital work is bringing the goal of delivering energy which is safe, clean and virtually limitless ever closer. We are delighted that our CAD and Fabrication experts were able to produce and bring to life a design that met the demands of such a complex project”.

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