Nuclear specialist in £1.46m funding boost for Warrington centre

Fusion energy machine at UKAE Culham

The United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) has increased its funding for work being carried out at Birchwood Park, in Warrington.

The UKAEA has made £11.6m-worth of awards to nine organisations to develop innovative technologies for fusion energy, which promises to be a safe, low carbon and sustainable part of the world’s future energy supply.

As part of the award, the organisation has awarded £1.46m to research into lithium, a key ingredient for fusion power reactors, by US firm Jacobs, for phase 2 of the project to extend the liquid lithium testing facility at its Technology & Innovation Centre at Birchwood Park.

It was one of 18 projects which received initial phase 1 funding at the end of last year and has now been selected among a handful of these to progress to phase 2.

Jacobs managing consultant, Ryan Morris, said: “Based on the work we did under phase 1, UKAEA has recognised why a facility like this is needed.

“Our research aims to fill many knowledge gaps surrounding the properties of lithium, an alkali metal critical for breeding the hydrogen isotope tritium, an essential fuel for fusion reactors.

“Its use presents several challenges though, including material compatibility and interactions of lithium with tritium.”

He added: “We will continue to develop our ability to handle lithium safely and we will also be able to test materials for fusion reactors at high temperatures and with known impurities.

“The facility and associated know-how will provide important groundwork for future projects, including fusion reactor design and will be a new and exciting capability for us at Birchwood Park, complementing existing fusion capabilities.”

Tim Bestwick, UKAEA’s chief development officer, said: “Delivering fusion energy is one of the great scientific and engineering challenges of our time. The Fusion Industry Programme is supporting businesses to overcome these challenges and help make fusion a commercial reality.

“These organisations have been awarded contracts after successfully demonstrating the feasibility of their concepts through earlier stages of the Fusion Industry Programme and will now develop their technologies to the ‘proof of concept’ stage.”

Phase 2 will involve the acquisition of a new glovebox, a lithium purification system and a series of new test vessels and includes testing of materials under fusion-relevant conditions.

The UKAEA funding programme is designed to tackle specific challenges linked to the commercialisation of fusion energy, from novel materials and manufacturing techniques through to innovative heating and cooling systems.

US-owned Jacobs employs 2,750 staff at operations in Warrington, Manchester and Knutsford.