Scientists have been scrambling to crack the code to harness nuclear fusion, which has been hailed as a “holy grail” energy source. Eventually, a nuclear fusion process could generate electricity by using heat from fusion reactions. This is the same process used by stars, where hydrogen atoms fuse together to form helium and matter to harness energy.
But the full mystery behind creating this process on Earth has yet to be solved – getting the reaction to use up less energy than it produces.
Now, it has been predicted that this problem could be overcome by the end of the decade, with UK researchers, in particular, having a “huge advantage”.
Dr Nick Hawker, CEO of Oxford-based start-up First Light Fusion (FLF), said the problem could be solved this decade.
He told the Science and Technology Committee today: “There are a number of projects now who have very credible plans to really solve and prove the physics problem is solved this decade.
“ITER is on that path, and many other start-ups are on that path.”
Dr Hawker’s FLF is one of those start-ups.
It has achieved a fusion reaction using a unique method at its laboratory in Kidlington.
It was able to compress fuel inside a target using what is known as a projectile travelling at rapid speeds, a different method to one usually seen.
The reaction was created at a record rate of progress, but still could not get it to produce more energy than it used up.
ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) in France has been trying to create a fusion reaction inside a machine known as a tokamak.
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“This could be a real area of strength.”
And he speculated: “I think we will have a power plant, a pilot plant, in the 2030s,
“I think we will have cost-competitive fusion power in the 2040s.”