Oxford Sigma awarded business investment to support liquid metal corrosion barrier development for fusion energy 

09 Jan 2023 | News

Oxford Sigma has been awarded business investment to support the development of fusion breeder blanket technology through the Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (OxLEP) Business Investment Fund. This investment builds upon a programme of work led by Oxford Sigma and funded by a recent grant award, our UK SBRI Liquid metal corrosion testing project, and commercial projects. This work aims to unlock a vital technology for the commercialisation of fusion energy, and this grant places Oxford Sigma’s enabling materials technology in liquid metal breeder blankets one step closer to finding a commercially relevant solution.

Nuclear fusion is the natural physical process whereby two atomic nuclei bind together releasing large amounts of usable energy, a process observed in stars, with the potential of near limitless clear energy if recreated on earth. Commercially and technologically, the fusing of deuterium and tritium isotopes (D-T fusion) is the most promising option. Deuterium is naturally abundant and easily extractable from water, while tritium is extremely scarce. As a result, nuclear fusion reactors require tritium to be continuously bred during operation, to offset that consumed in the fusion reactions. The process of breeding tritium is performed in devices called breeder blankets which surround the fusion reactor core. Breeder blanket designs are optimised to enable the neutrons emitted in the fusion reaction, to interact with lithium in the blanket, breaking up and forming the tritium fuel. To date, no breeder blankets have been coupled to fusion machines during operation. With a significant number of challenges facing the design of these devices due to the extreme environments in a fusion reactor. During operation, breeder blankets experience extreme radiation damage, high operational temperatures, strong magnetic fields, a corrosive liquid metal coolant environment, and tritium permeation through the structure. Blanket development is key to enabling fusion energy as a source of electricity; and solving the technical challenges of constructing and operating a commercially relevant blanket is essential for fusion energy to be successful.

Oxford Sigma has a track record of developing novel solutions in materials and in-vessel components, such as breeder blankets. Oxford Sigma has its own patented technology in breeder blanket design and is collaborating on alloy development with Singapore University of Design and Technology to rapidly screen prototype tungsten alloys across a large compositional range. The company also holds strong links with the University of Oxford on developing key fusion materials technology.

The outcome of this investment will enable Oxford Sigma to:

  • Expand identified candidate materials testing within a high-temperature liquid lithium environment to further investigate corrosion performance within a liquid lithium breeder blanket for fusion energy.
  • Conduct high-performance nuclear physics simulations on identified materials to study the impact of neutron irradiation on material properties, safety, and waste production in a fusion relevant environment.

Oxford Sigma is on a path to commercialise liquid lithium corrosion resistant technology to enable liquid metal breeder blanket and coolants to be commercially successful. To discover how this technology will be beneficial to you and your organisation, contact Oxford Sigma at [email protected].

“Oxford Sigma is innovating in key enabling materials technologies for fusion energy. Oxford Sigma’s team has identified candidate materials to withstand the harsh corrosive environment and this will be a key enabling technology for fusion energy; in particular, within liquid metal breeder blankets.” 

~ Dr Thomas Davis, CTO, Oxford Sigma

About Oxford Sigma

Oxford Sigma tackles energy security and climate change by accelerating the development of fusion and advanced nuclear energy. The company aims to develop enabling technologies in fusion and nuclear energy, develop materials for extreme environments, and advise these industries to accelerate and 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]