Tokamak Solutions secures funding to develop powerful neutron source

14 February 2011

Fusion research company Tokamak Solutions has secured £170,000 of equity investment from Sir Martin and Lady Audrey Wood, the Rainbow Seed Fund, Oxford Instruments plc and investor members of the Oxford Early Investments network.

The funding will enable Tokamak Solutions to complete the design of its novel fusion neutron source - a super compact tokamak. Applications for the new technology range from the clean-up of nuclear waste, which could make safe nuclear power a reality, to the production of medical isotopes used in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases such as cancer and, in the longer term, as part of a zero carbon method for large scale hydrogen production.

The company has also just been awarded a €110,000 contract from ITER, the next generation international fusion energy research reactor, to advise on diagnostics for measuring neutron emission and fusion power.

Fusion scientists around the world are designing methods to harness fusion as an energy source that typically involve the construction of huge, multi-billion pound facilities. The Tokamak Solutions team located at Culham, Oxfordshire is focused on creating a super compact, but powerful, fusion neutron source and has already filed patent applications for the initial design of its tokamak.

The concept of 'fusion for neutrons', the basis of the company's technology, is the brainchild of Dr Mikhail Gryaznevich and Alan Sykes who have worked on fusion research at Culham for 20 years. They realised the success they had achieved with colleagues at Culham in creating two ground-breaking spherical tokamaks held the key to unlocking the potential of fusion neutron sources. In late 2009, they co-founded Tokamak Solutions with Dr David Kingham, former managing director of Oxford Innovation, who helped them formulate a business strategy to commercialise the technology.

Alan Sykes, technical director at Tokamak Solutions, said: "The fusion process produces an abundance of neutrons and by using the spherical tokamak this can be done very efficiently. This means that a fusion neutron source, with a wide variety of applications, can be realised on a much smaller scale than a fusion energy source of the ITER type."

Dr Kingham, now chief executive of Tokamak Solutions, said: "We are delighted to have secured the investment we need to progress the development of this bold new technology. Our initial focus is on the plasma physics and neutron research markets and our new group of investors has already provided significant added value in addition to their investment. For example, Oxford Instruments has advised on potential applications in relation to superconducting magnets while the Rainbow Seed Fund has assisted with introductions to potential users of neutrons."

Beyond the initial development stage, Tokamak Solutions' fusion neutron source offers a viable way to clean up nuclear waste. Neutron bombardment can potentially deal with all radioactive nuclear waste, but one of the most promising applications lies in using neutrons to destroy the 'minor actinides' that are particularly problematic for burial.

Dr Gryaznevich, chief scientific officer at Tokamak Solutions, explained: "Burying minor actinides is expensive and risky as they undergo fissile decay over thousands of years, releasing heat and radioactive fragments, making them difficult to contain. During the past 30 years, many scientific papers have been written about the potential transmutation of minor actinides, but our super compact fusion neutron source is the first system based on currently available technology with the potential to produce the neutrons required for this clean-up."

Additional applications for fusion neutron sources include: production of medical isotopes - where there are currently worldwide shortages; scientific research - where there is significant unmet demand; and in the testing of materials components for future fission and fusion energy reactors - where international facilities currently fall short of requirements. In the longer term, fusion neutron sources may prove valuable as part of an efficient, zero carbon method for large scale hydrogen production and as the core of a fusion-fission hybrid (or sub-critical) reactor that will breed its own fuel and destroy its own waste.

Tokamak Solutions has assembled a distinguished scientific and environmental advisory board chaired by Lord Julian Hunt FRS, who speaks regularly in the House of Lords on the potential of fusion-fission hybrid reactors. Lord Hunt said: "The potential of fusion-fission hybrids has been recognised internationally for many years, and the Tokamak Solutions' design of fusion neutron source is a big step towards realising this potential. The result should be cleaner, safer, zero carbon, nuclear power."

Jonathan Flint, chief executive of Oxford Instruments plc, was one of the first to spot the potential of Tokamak Solutions' neutron source technology. He said: "Oxford Instruments has a long established track record supplying tools and consultancy services to the fusion community and we are delighted to support a project that has the potential to offer significant benefits to the industry."

Mark White of the Rainbow Seed Fund has worked closely with the Tokamak Solutions team over the last year. He said: "Tokamak Solutions is a great example of a business emerging from world-leading research and we are pleased to back the next step in the development of their innovative technology."

Chris Baker, manager of Oxford Early Investments network, said: "We were pleased to assist Tokamak Solutions to secure the crucial investment to complete the initial design for their new tokamak. This technology could potentially provide a cost-effective method to harness fusion energy and generate safe, pollution-free power."

- ENDS -

Editors notes

Press enquiries to: Margaret Henry, PR Director, Oxford Innovation.

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Images available on request

1. The Tokamak Solutions team with members of the scientific advisory board

2. Technology image - a stable fusion plasma in a small tokamak.

About Tokamak Solutions UK Ltd

Founded in 2009, Tokamak Solutions aims to commercialise spherical tokamaks as neutron sources and plasma research instruments.

The nuclear fusion reaction produces an abundance of high-energy neutrons and Tokamak Solutions has designed a super compact fusion neutron source to exploit this aspect of fusion and produce powerful neutron sources.

The applications for a powerful fusion neutron source of 14 mega electron volt neutrons include materials research, the production of isotopes for medical use and the transmutation of waste from existing nuclear power stations.

Existing designs for fusion neutron sources are expensive to build and operate and are unreliable. Tokamak Solutions has overcome these problems by designing a smaller super compact fusion neutron source with an overall diameter of two metres that can provide megawatt level neutron output while operating at modest plasma performance.

This breakthrough has been achieved by harnessing the effectiveness of beam-plasma fusion.

Instead of requiring a large, ultra-hot plasma to produce fusion neutrons, the super compact fusion neutron source designed by Tokamak Solutions generates neutrons by the simpler method of injecting a high energy beam into a 'warm' plasma of modest size.

The Tokamak Solutions board is led by Dr David Kingham (CEO) who was formerly managing director of Oxford Innovation, a leading operator of business and innovation centres, investment networks and advisory programmes for entrepreneurs. Other members include Dr Mikhail Gryaznevich (chief scientific officer) and Alan Sykes (technical director).

The Scientific and Environmental Advisory Board is chaired by Lord Julian Hunt FRS. Other members include Sir Martin Wood FRS (co-founder of Oxford Instruments plc); Jack Connor FRS (one of the most influential theoretical plasma physicists in the international fusion programme), and Professor George Smith FRS (emeritus professor of materials at the University of Oxford).

The company is located at Culham Innovation Centre, Oxfordshire.

About Tokamak Solutions design for a super compact fusion neutron source

A feature of the Tokamak Solutions design is that physics demands (such as energy confinement and plasma elongation) and engineering constraints (such as wall and divertor loads) are within those already established on spherical tokamaks or on the ITER design. The plasma current is relatively low at 1.5MA, although the toroidal field of 1.5Tesla is substantially higher than presently employed on spherical tokamaks - this factor providing a major improvement in performance.

The design features novel techniques of plasma initiation, a particular problem with spherical tokamaks, where the compact size prohibits shielding to protect a central current-inducing solenoid. These novel techniques are based on the unique experience of Tokamak Solutions technical experts gained from their work on the pioneering START and MAST spherical tokamaks at Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, Oxfordshire.

Modelling shows that modest Neutral Beam Injection (NBI) power of 6-8 mega watts at high energy can both sustain the plasma current and produce megawatt level neutron output dominated by beam-plasma fusion. The low values (compared to other neutron source designs) of NBI power, plasma current and field ensure that the super compact fusion neutron source designed by Tokamak Solutions has significantly lower construction and operating costs.

About spherical tokamaks

A tokamak is a machine that uses a magnetic field to confine a plasma in the shape of a torus (doughnut). Experimental research of tokamak systems began in 1956 in Kurchatov Institute, Moscow by a group of Soviet scientists led by Lev Artsimovich.

In order to obtain sufficient fusion energy to exceed the power input required to create the magnetic field and heat the plasma, conventional tokamaks have to be very large - JET (Joint European Torus) at Culham and ITER, under construction at Cadarache, France, are huge, impressive feats of engineering.

The spherical tokamak, introduced in the 1970s, is a low aspect ratio version of a conventional tokamak. The first demonstration of a spherical tokamak was provided by the START device which was operational at the Culham Laboratory from 1990 to 1998. START was a small tokamak that only had a diameter of only one metre but it achieved world record efficiency for the amount of plasma that can be held by a given magnetic field.

During the last ten years, research on more than 15 small and medium sized spherical tokamaks, built to a simple design, has yielded excellent results and high reliability. Tokamak Solutions has created an enhanced design that will enable the use of spherical tokamaks as powerful fusion neutron sources.

About Oxford Instruments plc

Oxford Instruments aims to pursue responsible development and deeper understanding of our world through science and technology. It provides high technology tools and systems for industrial and research markets, based on its ability to analyse and manipulate matter at the smallest scale. Innovation has been the driving force behind Oxford Instruments' growth and success for over 50 years, and its strategy is to effect the successful commercialisation of these ideas by bringing them to market in a timely and customer-focused fashion.

The first technology business to be spun out from Oxford University over fifty years ago, Oxford Instruments is now a global company with over 1,500 staff worldwide and a listing on the London Stock Exchange (OXIG). 

Its objective is to be a leading supplier of next generation tools and systems for research and industry. This involves the combination of core technologies in areas such as low temperature and high magnetic field environments, Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, X-ray electron and optical based metrology, and advanced growth, deposition and etching. Oxford Instruments' products, expertise, and ideas address global issues such as energy, environment, and health and are part of the next generation of telecommunications, energy products, environmental measures, security devices, drug discovery and medical advances.

For more information:

About the Rainbow Seed Fund

The £10m Rainbow Seed Fund was established in 2002 with funding from the Office of Science and Innovation to commercialise scientific research in a leading group of the UK publicly funded institutions, its partners. The Fund, which is independently managed by Midven Ltd, made its first investment in 2002 and currently has a portfolio of 22 companies with one exit.

The Fund invests at the earliest stages of a technology's development, and helps to turn an idea into business by actively identifying and supporting experienced management and facilitating additional co-investment. Rainbow's partners spend over £1 billion on research and development every year giving the Fund privileged access to high quality investment propositions at the earliest stage.

For more information:

About Oxford Early Investments (OEI)

Founded in 2004, Oxford Early Investments (OEI) is a business angel network that helps early stage companies raise funding from £25,000 to £150,000 by matching them with business angel investors who often provide management input as well as capital. OEI holds monthly investment meetings, where companies from across the UK pitch their business proposals to OEI's investor members.

OEI has two successful sister networks. Oxford Investment Opportunity Network links investors with technology companies seeking funding of up to £2 million. Thames Valley Investment Network links investors in the Reading and Thames Valley area with companies in the general technology, media and green tech sectors seeking funding from £150,000 to £750,000.

OEI is sponsored by Manches, Dehns, Richardsons, Oxford Technology Management; the Harwell Campus Programme, the University of Southampton and the University of Portsmouth. For more information: