First Light Fusion The dream of harnessing the power of the stars to provide near-limitless clean electricity has remained up to now just that – a dream.
However, this may be about to change, thanks in part to the work of OCC.
In stars like our own Sun, a huge amount of energy and heat is released by nuclear fusion, when the nuclei of atoms collide at very high speeds to create a new, larger nucleus. Most attempts to replicate the process in laboratories, using expensive high-density lasers or magnetic fields and super-hot plasmas, have so far struggled to get to the point at which more energy is produced than put in.
Oxford University spin-off First Light Fusion is instead looking at another approach, ‘inertial confinement fusion’. This involves firing a very high-speed projectile at a container of fluid to create a shockwave. The theory is that this then collapses the fuel cavity within it with so much ferocity that temperatures rise to the point where fusion can occur.
OCC, with its strong maths and physics background and experience of programming supercomputers, was a natural fit to help develop the modelling software that could take the concept reactor from a test rig in a laboratory towards fusion.
First Light Fusion’s team was able to focus on the physics, while OCC designed and implemented the software, at the same time making sure that the code would work on a supercomputer in the future.
The model had to be tested repeatedly to make sure it was accurate and robust, particularly in the type of awkward edge-case scenarios that have thwarted numerical models in the past. The final test, carried out entirely by First Light Fusion, was to compare experimental images of the target collapsing with the simulation and so confirm that they agreed.
Now the world just has to hold its breath to see if First Light’s approach to fusion works.