Fusion engineers support UKAEA’s goal in developing UK manufacturing capability to build future fusion power stations

STEP Reactor. Photo credit: UKAEA

Oxford Sigma worked with M5tec, a key supplier in fusion engineering design, on the development of a conceptual manufacturing plan for plasma-facing components of future fusion power stations. This project was funded by the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA)’s Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) programme. This ambitious programme seeks to demonstrate the commercial viability of fusion energy.

With its mission to lead the delivery of sustainable fusion energy and maximise the scientific and economic benefit, UKAEA leads the way in upskilling the fusion industry and engaging with small and medium enterprises (SMEs) like M5tec and Oxford Sigma. The project completed by M5tec and Oxford Sigma scoped out how the UK fusion industry together with UKAEA can tackle some of the key manufacturing challenges in fusion.

The plasma-facing components of a fusion device must protect the rest of the components from the extreme heat loads and neutron damage imparted by the plasma. It is an actively cooled component often containing sacrificial sections that are designed to melt during occurrences when the plasma touches the wall. Plasma-facing component designs consisting of tungsten armour on a steel or copper heatsink present many manufacturing challenges for implementation on a large-scale tokamak like STEP mainly due to the materials’ differences in heat expansion coefficients and thermal heat conductivity properties.

The project utilised M5tec’s expertise in mechanical design and Oxford Sigma’s world experts in tungsten-based materials for fusion energy to provide UKAEA with a credible conceptual manufacturing plan for plasma-facing components of a STEP fusion machine. The project covered the background to materials selection, an optioneering study, evaluation of manufacturing processes, a manufacturing plan, identification of UK suppliers and costs. Early manufacturing planning by Oxford Sigma and M5tec therefore highlighted any manufacturing design constraints or recommendations, capability shortfalls and any other manufacturing risks or opportunities that may influence a First Wall design.

“Through this project, M5tec and Oxford Sigma have been able to identify a feasible route to manufacture components for the most extreme region within a future fusion power station. It is clear that the UK is leading in meeting these manufacturing challenges found within fusion through support from UKAEA.”

~ Dr Thomas Davis, CTO Oxford Sigma

“This project allowed M5tec and Oxford Sigma to provide valuable, pro-active research into an extremely critical challenge within a fusion reactor. The study provided valuable lessons on the capabilities and drawbacks of many manufacturing processes, then utilised to deliver a feasible and promising manufacturing plan.”

~ Thomas Lavender, Engineer, M5tec

“Overcoming the manufacturing challenges will be key to enabling the delivery of a fusion powerplant such as STEP. Addressing manufacturing early in the life-cycle through projects such as this, enables key challenges to be identified, ensures a manufacturable concept design and engages UK capability and capacity to deliver.”

~ Rob Clay, STEP Manufacturing, UKAEA

About Oxford Sigma
Oxford Sigma tackles energy security and climate change by accelerating the development of fusion and advanced nuclear energy. The company’s aim is to develop innovative nuclear technology to withstand extreme environments, provide nuclear materials expertise, and advise the advanced nuclear and fusion energy industries in their quest to achieve commercialisation. Internationally recognised as a highly technical SME, our growing team of engineers and scientists play an active role in the emerging supply chain ecosystem within the UK, USA and EU for fusion energy and advanced nuclear energy. Please do get in touch at [email protected].

About M5tec
M5tec are a multidiscipline engineered solutions provider and consultancy located in County Durham, England. Their team consists of experienced and enthusiastic engineers who are dedicated to supplying high-assurance industries with new and innovative solutions to engineering challenges and committed to delivering engineering excellence on every project. They have a strong history in designing engineered solutions for operation within hazardous environments including fusion, nuclear and subsea. For further information please visit https://m5tec.com or email at [email protected].

UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) is the national research organisation responsible for the development of fusion energy.  

Fusion energy has great potential to deliver safe, sustainable, low carbon energy for generations to come. It is based on the same processes that power the sun and stars, and would form part of the world’s future energy mix. Achieving this is a major technical challenge that involves working at the forefront of science, engineering, and technology. 

UKAEA’s programmes include the MAST-Upgrade (Mega Amp Spherical Tokamak) fusion experiment and the JET (Joint European Torus) fusion research facility, operated for scientists from around Europe in Culham, Oxford. STEP (Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production) is UKAEA’s ambitious programme to accelerate the delivery of fusion energy, with plans to deliver a prototype powerplant producing net electricity in the 2040s in Nottinghamshire. 

UKAEA also undertakes cutting edge work with academia, other research organisations and the industrial supply chain in a wide spectrum of areas, including robotics and materials. 

More information: https://www.gov.uk/ukaea. Social Media: @UKAEAofficial