Tencent backs Oxford startup’s quest for energy ‘holy grail’

Kidlington-based First Light Fusion is developing a process that triggers conditions by firing a projectile at extremely high velocities into a fuel pellet.

Last year, it installed a 22-metre, 25,000 kg gas cannon that fires a 100 g projectile at 6.5 km/second, about twenty times the speed of sound.

Welcoming the new funding, Chief Executive Dr Nick Hawker said: “We remain very confident in our technology, our people and the potential of our unique approach.

“We continue to believe that our inertial confinement approach offers the fastest and most importantly the most competitive route to grid-ready fusion energy.”

The funding for First Light Fusion comes after researchers at JET’s laboratory in Culham, near Oxford, last week set a record for the amount of fusion power produced.

The researchers reached 59 megajoules of sustained fusion energy, well above the 22 megajoules achieved in 1997, but only enough to boil about 60 kettles of water.

Ian Chapman, head of Britain’s Atomic Energy Authority, said it was a historic event, adding: “We are developing the knowledge and developing the new technology needed to provide a source of energy from sustainable low-carbon base that helps protect the planet for future generations.”

An array of commercial fusion start-ups have emerged around the world in recent years as hopes grow that the technology, promised since the 1950s, could finally be within reach. Oxford and its nearby Culham Center for Fusion Energy are among the world centers for racing.

First Light’s rivals include Tokamak Energy, which is also based there and which has raised £123.1m from investors including Legal & General and billionaire Hans-Peter Wild, owner of the Capri juice brand -Sun. Canadian company General Fusion, backed by $322 million from investors including Jeff Bezos, is also building a demonstration reactor at Culham.

In the United States, Helion Energy has raised nearly $580 million from backers including Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz. The best-funded fusion startup is Commonwealth Fusion, which spun out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and received more than $2 billion from Bill Gates and George Soros.

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