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SBRI Competition – Fusion Industry Challenges


Organisations can apply for a share of £2million, inclusive of VAT, to develop solutions that accelerate fusion power plant design and reduce their fuel requirements.
This is a Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) competition funded by the UK Atomic Energy Authority. The aim of the competition is to develop solutions to fusion energy challenges in two key priority areas. This competition has two themes:
  1. Accelerating fusion power plant design with next-generation digital tools
  2. Reducing fusion power plant fuel requirements with advanced production and handling technology for hydrogen isotopes

This is phase 1 of a potential two phase competition. A decision to proceed with phase 2 will depend on the outcomes from phase 1 and assessment of a separate application into a subsequent phase 2 competition.

Only successful applicants from phase 1 will be able to apply to take part in phase 2. Applicants for phase 2 will need to apply directly to the UK Atomic Energy Authority.

Any adoption and implementation of a solution from this competition would be subject of a separate, possible competitive, procurement exercise. This competition does not cover the purchase of any solution.

Phase 1 projects can have total costs between £50,000 and £250,000, inclusive of VAT.

Open Date:


Close Date:


The aim of this competition is to encourage innovation in the fusion industry through the use of novel technologies and innovative uses of data.

Innovate UK are looking for projects that develop solutions to fusion energy challenges in two key priority areas identified by the UK Atomic Energy Authority.

  1. Accelerating fusion power plant design with next-generation digital tools
  2. Reducing fusion power plant fuel requirements with advanced production and handling technology for hydrogen isotopes

In phase 1, you must demonstrate the feasibility of your project, in line with the specific themes.

Innovate UK will give preference to applications which:

  • Help the innovation be formally accepted for future use in a fusion plant environment, such as through obtaining relevant regulatory certificates or approvals during phase 2.
  • Offer innovations that consider sustainability as part of their technology development

Your proposal must:

  • Reduce the risk involved in taking up technologies and faster
  • Outline plans to accelerate time to market
  • Be pre-commercial
  • Explain rationale for the solution and describe the expected impact
  • Define how the proposed solution would enable and support the delivery of sustainable fusion power plants
  • Assign at least two technical milestones where technical performance is reviewed in order to release funds
  • Demonstrate a clear plan for commercialisation and a route to market for affordable, developed solutions
  • Set out clearly how solutions might be tested in a representative or real world setting as part of phase 2
  • Address how any potentially negative outcomes would be managed (such as on the environment or society)
  • Demonstrate how you will work with at least one potential future customer throughout your project who might use your solution when it comes to market

Your proposed solution must:

  • Be based on sound fundamental technical principles
  • Be innovative
  • Be practical and deliverable
  • Take affordability into consideration
  • Demonstrate the potential for cost-effectiveness
  • Integrate with existing systems where necessary
  • Consider user experience throughout the design and development process.
  • Provide a business case for using the solution in a commercial environment that demonstrates improvement over the existing baseline conditions

At this stage contracts will be given for phase 1 only. You must define your goals and outline your plan for phase 2.

You must demonstrate a credible and practical route to market, so your application must include a plan to commercialise your results.

In phase 2, Innovate UK will ask successful applicants from phase 1 to develop and demonstrate a working prototype in a real-world environment.

Specific themes

Your project must address one of these two themes:

1.Accelerating fusion power plant design with next-generation digital tools

To meet Net Zero targets, there is not enough time for traditional Design-Build-Test-Learn (DBTL) approach for fusion power plants. Increasing emphasis will be placed upon emerging innovation from in silico engineering design:

Exascale artificial intelligence era Digital Thread platform

  • Beyond current Product Lifecycle Management
  • Endures for the lifetime of the product (100 years)
  • Low-code
  • Time efficient
  • scalable
  • enable and promote automation
  • enable design integration

Optimise the extraction of information and knowledge from experiment and simulation

  • Data science for experiment automation and optimisation
  • Avoid “all prior data” dependence
  • Minimise simulation data storage – extraction, compression, discarding
  • Surrogate models and emulators
  • Data extrapolation
  1. Reducing fusion power plant fuel requirements with advanced production and handling technology for Hydrogen isotopes

Tritium is a radioactive isotope with a half-life of around 12 years, because of this natural reserves are scarce. Developing techniques for safely and efficiently managing hydrogen isotopes is an essential step in the path to making fusion a commercial energy source, for example:

  • Hydrogen Isotope Separation Technologies
  • Improving efficiency of tritium and hydrogen systems (eg pumps, sealants, inner loop)
  • waste management and decommissioning
  • Development of on-line Tritium production measurement (eg Raman spectroscopy)
  • Tracking and location of hydrogen, eg Atom probe tomography, Raman spectroscopy

Research categories

In phase 1, the supplier will work closely with the stakeholders to develop a solution. The outcome of phase 2 will be a prototype of the solution.

Phase 1: technical feasibility studies

This means planned research or critical investigation to gain new knowledge and skills for developing new products, processes or services.

Phase 2: prototype development and evaluation

This can include prototyping, demonstrating, piloting, testing and validation of new or improved products, processes or services in environments representative of real life operating conditions. The primary objective is to make further technical improvements on products, processes or services that are not substantially set.

Projects are expected to start by 1 September 2021, end by 31 March 2022 and can last up to six months.

To lead a project, you can:

  • Be an organisation of any size
  • Work alone or with others from business, research organisations, research and technology organisations or other sectors as subcontractors

Applicants are welcome from all sectors.

Contracts will be awarded only to a single legal entity. However, if you can justify subcontracting components of the work, you can employ specialist consultants or advisers. This work will still be the responsibility of the main contractor.

The assessors will consider fair value in making their evaluation.

Eligibility overview

Here is a diagram showing a summary of eligibility.

This is a new way of showing you eligibility. Your feedback will help Innovate UK to improve it.

A total of up to £2million, inclusive of VAT, is allocated to phase 1. The funding is provided by the UK Atomic Energy Authority.

Phase 1 feasibility study R&D contracts must have total costs between £50,000 and £250,000, inclusive of VAT. Each project must last up to six months. Innovate UK expect to fund up to eight projects.

The second phase involves up to four contracts being awarded to businesses chosen from the successful phase 1 applicants. Up to £3million, inclusive of VAT, will be allocated for each contract, in order to develop a prototype and undertake field testing for up to 24 months.

The total funding available for the competition can change. The funders have the right to:

  • Adjust the provisional funding allocations between the phases
  • Apply a ‘portfolio’ approach

The contract is completed at the end of phase 2, and the successful business is expected to pursue commercialisation of their solution.

Research and development

Your application must have at least 50% of the contract value attributed directly and exclusively to R&D services, including solution exploration and design. R&D can also include prototyping and field-testing the product or service. This lets you incorporate the results of your exploration and design, and demonstrate that you can produce in quantity to acceptable quality standards.

R&D does not include:

  • Commercial development activities such as quantity production
  • Supply to establish commercial viability or to recover R&D costs
  • Integration, customisation or incremental adaptations and improvements to existing products or processes

Value Added Tax (VAT)

You must select whether you are VAT registered before entering your project costs.

If you are VAT registered you must enter your project costs exclusive of VAT. As part of the application process, VAT will be automatically calculated and added to your project cost total.

If you are not VAT registered, then you must enter your project costs exclusive of VAT. You will not be able to increase invoice values to cover VAT later should you become VAT registered.

VAT is the responsibility of the invoicing business. Innovate UK will not provide any further advice and advise you to seek independent advice from HMRC.

Subsidy Control

SBRI competitions involve procurement of R&D services at a fair market value and are not subject to Subsidy control criteria that typically apply to grant funding.

Innovate UK will not fund projects which:

  • Do not engage with potential future customers to understand needs
  • Cannot be undertaken within the working restrictions of coronavirus (COVID 19)
  • Do not address how any potentially negative outcomes would be managed such as on the environment or society
  • Do not address at least one theme within the competition scope
  • Duplicates existing innovation, or work in progress by others
  • Are not commercially viable
  • Directly duplicate other UK government or EU funded initiatives you have already been funded to deliver

Cresco Innovation works with companies to develop and implement innovation strategies. We help client companies identify opportunities to develop new products and services, and then create a package of support to ensure that the idea is turned into a commercial reality.

Our services include securing grants (as a team we have raised around £40million over three years), business planning, IP advice, access to finance and funders, project management and IP commercialisation support.

We regularly act as the interface with the funding bodies and help clients ensure that their projects are properly managed to ensure the best outcome for all.

Call to find out more

If you’d like to know more about this competition, please give us a call on 01509 261182 and one of our team will be delighted to help you access this funding opportunity for your business.