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First Light Fusion, Oxford


Non-Conductive and Non-Corrosive GRP Composite Fabrication | Case Study

Project: Bespoke Fabrication/Access Structure, UK

Client: First Light Fusion

First Light Fusion is an Oxford-based research company founded by Professor Yiannis Ventikos, who is currently the Head of the Mechanical Engineering Department at University College, London, and Nicholas Hawker, formerly an Engineering lecturer at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford.

Fusion is the ultimate source of the universe’s energy and is the same process that powers stars, including the Sun. 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.

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.

Please note that images shown on this page cannot be reproduced, modified, copied or used without the written permission of First Light Fusion Ltd.

Machine 3 has a structure which was fabricated from non-conductive and non-corrosive Glass Reinforced Polymer (GRP) by composite fabrication experts Dura Composites, and is capable of discharging 200,000 volts and in excess of 14 million amperes within two microseconds. This ‘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.

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, handrailing, cable trays, flow sub-structures and more, thanks to its corrosion-resistant, high strength, low weight, non-conductive and UV resistant characteristics.

First Light said its ambitious programme of development remains on track. The next step in the technological development will be to achieve gain using Machine 3, in which the amount of energy created outstrips that used to spark the reaction. It expects to demonstrate “gain”  this decade, and a first-of-a-kind plant in the 2030s.

Commenting about 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.

Speaking about Dura Composites’ role in fabricating the structure which houses the M3 Machine, Chris Tate, Commercial Fabrication Manager at 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.

Unlocking the Power of Composites™ for Power and Energy Projects

As projects like this demonstrate, adopting new technologies, processes and solutions within the transmission network is crucial to enabling an energy system that’s fit for anticipated demand and for ensuring continuity of power.

GRP composites can provide major design flexibility, time saving benefits and significant lifecycle advantages over traditional materials such as plywood, hardwood and concrete, and recent clarification of key standards areas such as fire performance have made them more accessible than ever. Our tailored d2 Dura Grating for example is a new patent pending GRP grating series that takes structural flooring to the next level.

d2 Dura Grating offers outstanding safety, performance and durability and is more cost-effective than traditional GRP grating in almost every scenario. Available exclusively from Dura Composites, d2 Dura Grating Solid Top 41mm can be supplied as standard with properties such as strength, stiffness, weight and colour can be engineered by product design at the early stages of development and applications for GRP within the Energy and Utilities Sector include GRP flooring, handrails, trench and duct covers, up and over staircases, utility screening and roof walkways.

Contact Chris Tate our Fabrications Commercial Manager for GRP Access Solutions and Fabrication Services

Dura Composites’ highly experienced team offer a tried and tested Fabrication Service  – including build, supply & installation.

Call us on 01255 446824