UKAEA awards £6.8m to develop fusion technologies

Article by Kerry Hebden

UKAEA / EUROfusion

THE United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) has awarded £6.8m (US$8.6m) in contracts to seven organisations to develop fusion technologies to the ‘proof of concept’ stage. 

Ranging from start-ups, small-medium enterprises, established companies, and academia, the contracts were awarded to organisations focusing on digital engineering and fusion fuel requirements to address fusion energy development challenges. 

Two of the seven contracts will go to Full Matrix and the University of Manchester to work on digital engineering challenges. 

The remaining awards have been allocated to Gencoa, AqSorption, IS-Instruments, the University of Bristol, and the University of Liverpool. They will focus on reducing fusion power plant fuel requirements by researching advanced production and handling technologies for hydrogen isotopes. 

Currently, around 80% of the world’s energy comes from fossil fuels. But with turbulence in energy markets, due for example by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the threat of a warming planet due to climate change, the race is on to find alternative, sustainable technologies to supply the energy needs of a growing global population.   

With no greenhouse gas emissions or long-lived nuclear waste, virtually limitless fuels, and inherent safety features, fusion could play a key role in the energy market of the future, once commercialised.  

These awards aim to bolster commercialisation by engaging with the private sector on the technical challenges facing fusion energy’s development. 

Tim Bestwick, UKAEA’s chief development officer, said: “Fusion has enormous promise as a source of sustainable, low-carbon energy for future generations. The second phase of the Fusion Industry Programme gives organisations the opportunity to take their proposals to the next stage in development with resultant awards of up to £1m.” 

The funding forms part of the government’s £484m support package to cover the shortfall in cash that was provided by the EU prior to Brexit, and is one of a series of contract rounds recently launched by the government.  

Earlier this year, 18 Fusion Industry Programme contracts were awarded for the development of novel fusion materials, manufacturing techniques and innovative heating and cooling systems, while a further related challenge is still open to applicants. 

In this latest challenge, up to £1.5m is up for grabs for organisations who can ‘realise the potential of lithium in an economic, sustainable and scalable fusion energy fuel-cycle’. The closing date is 19 July 2023. 

Last year, the government selected the site of a coal-fired power plant in Nottinghamshire to host a prototype fusion energy plant with a target to put net electricity on the grid in the 2040s. 

Article by Kerry Hebden

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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