The peer-reviewed paper by Dr Nicholas Hawker, founder of UK-based First Light Fusion and published on Monday in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, demonstrates that inertial confinement fusion could deliver a levelised cost of energy (LCOE) as low as $25/MWh when the technology has matured. This compares with approximately $100/MWh for conventional nuclear energy and up to $50/MWh for onshore wind.
Previous research had estimated inertial confinement fusion could deliver a LCOE of about $80/MWh. This was based on a cost and engineering analysis that assumed the need for a pulse or “shot” – firing a projectile at a target at massive speed to create the conditions required for fusion to take place – every five seconds.
Dr Hawker’s research has identified new designs with higher fusion energy yield per shot, meaning fewer shots are required for the same amount of energy generated. The paper demonstrates how this change leads to a new optimum power plant design. The new design works at lower frequency, with a pulse every 60 seconds, and can reach economic viability with a smaller power output of 150 MW. The solution offers both lower cost and much reduced engineering risk due to the smaller plant size and low shot frequency.
First Light Fusion, a nuclear technology company that was spun out from the University of Oxford in June 2011, is working on a first-of-a-kind power plant design based on this new research. The company said the initial pilot plant will not have an LCOE at this level, but it will provide further technical and cost updates as the pilot design plans progress.