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ITER will require new and more flexible organisational structures to enable the innovation and technological progress which it generates to be swiftly transferred to industry. This will help to meet the challenges ahead and will enhance the competiveness of European industry.
Spin-off benefits of fusion research
Attaining the goal of fusion power production involves exciting and stimulating technological challenges. The underlying basic science, plasma physics and a whole range of supporting technologies have advanced in leaps and bounds thanks to the coordinated R&D efforts on fusion.
Along the way, many of these leading-edge technologies are being pushed to new limits, in many cases providing innovative solutions to challenging problems in applications far beyond the bounds of fusion power generation. There are numerous examples of spin-offs with applications in industry, providing real solutions to new and current problems. The exploitation of spin-offs from the technologies developed within the fusion research programme is of tremendous benefit to European economic competitiveness.
Specific spin-offs include:
The new technologies are found in many surprising sectors:
Technology moving forward
A feature of the European fusion research programme is the constant knowledge transfer among the programme, industry and the wider scientific community. The ITER project adds an exciting new challenge promising a wealth of additional spin-off opportunities for those industries involved. Large companies, many of which may already have experience of operating on an international stage, will be involved in ITER. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) will also be involved either directly, or indirectly as subcontractors, giving them the opportunity to widen their experience. Involvement in a project on the scale of ITER should bring benefits from the enhancement of the international profile of the company – of particular relevance to SMEs.
Technology transfer associated with fusion R&D entails continuous interaction between the fusion research community and industry. Both sides benefit from this with both fundamental and applied fusion R&D leading to many spin-off technologies, the formation of new companies and, in some cases, to whole new industrial sectors.
a) Examples of spin-off developments
Nine specific examples are presented here to illustrate not only the breadth of the technologies involved, but also the geographical spread across the Member States contributing to the fusion programme. More details of these and other spin-off developments can be found in the document Fusion energy moving forward.
High heat flux components
Plansee AG based in Reutte (Austria) has skills in many technology areas including powder metallurgy, metal forming and joining. Working with the CEA in Cadarache (France), it has developed methods for bonding carbon fibre composite (CFC) to copper alloys by means of active metal casting (AMC®) for use in high heat flux applications in the pumped limiter for the TORE SUPRA device (the CIEL project) as well as a method of casting copper on to tungsten and finally electron beam welding to CUCrZr. Both these techniques have high heat flux applications: copper casting is used in heavy-duty electrical switches and CFC AMC® is used in development projects for new space shuttle prototypes and rocket engines.
Super-conductors improve MRI
Alstom (France) gained extensive experience in superconductor R&D whilst working with CEA on the magnet systems for the TORE SUPRA experiment at Cadarache. The technology involves large-scale production of superconducting NbTi strands and this technology is now used in the MRI machines routinely employed in many hospitals for scanning body tissue. Alstom itself produces about 2 000 units per year.
High-power microwaves for industry
Within the Fusion R&D programme, a consortium of associations (FZK, CRPP, CEA, TEKES and NTUA) has accumulated a wealth of knowledge in the design of high-power microwave sources used to heat plasma. This know-how is being transferred to industry via Thales Electron Devices for use in a number of fusion experiments including ITER. However, the knowledge is proving invaluable in the application of high-power microwaves in other areas – in particular in industrial processing. With materials of low thermal conductivity, such as powders, glass, polymers or composites, heating with microwaves could lead to considerable reduction in processing time and energy consumption.
Plasma physics helps make better chips
Two computer codes developed by the IPP in Garching (Germany) to analyse the damage caused by fast plasma ions impinging on the walls of the plasma vacuum vessel are now enjoying world-wide application. The TRIM and TRIDYN programmes are used by semiconductor manufacturers and developers to predict and control ion implantation during doping of semiconductor chips. This process allows specific tailoring of the semiconductor’s electronic properties.
Plasma diagnostics improve microelectronics process
Scientific Systems Ltd is a successful spin-off company that emerged from the Irish Fusion Association Euratom DCU research in 1998. Scientific Systems makes high-end plasma diagnostics systems which are used worldwide by plasma research laboratories and plasma-based manufacturing industries including the semiconductor and thin-film coating sectors.
Plasma motors in space
Diagnostics developed for studying edge physics in the RFX experiment in Padua (Italy) are being applied to the study of turbulence experienced in a prototype magneto-plasma dynamic thruster for use in satellites. The development is being undertaken at Centrospazio in Pisa (Italy) to produce thrusters for long-range space missions and will help to understand and correct instabilities in the thruster performance in certain operational conditions.
Super conducting strands for magnets
Europa Metalli has been manufacturing NbTi multi-filament strands since 1977 working in close collaboration with the Applied Superconductivity Laboratory at ENEA in Frascati (Italy). Initially used in the European Test Facility SULTAN based at CRPP in Viligen (Switzerland), the company has subsequently supplied NbTi strands for use in many international particle accelerator projects. They also produce strands for use in MRI systems. Development continues with Nb3Sn materials that will be used in ITER coils and in high-frequency nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) imaging systems for biological investigations.
Fusion R&D helps high-tech weaving
The Bonas Machine Company in the UK is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of electronic jacquards – the machines that enable weavers to produce high-performance cloths and fabrics from computer generated designs. Technical advice from UKAEA, via technology transfer consultancy Quo-Tec, has helped Bonas stay ahead of the competition by supplying know-how about long-life, highly stressed electromechanical structures. New actuator concepts can improve the performance of existing Jacquard machine designs and could provide the basis of a completely new device.
New carbon materials have real stopping power
Dunlop Aviation designs and manufactures aircraft wheels, braking systems and ice protection systems for aircraft of all types. The company has provided large amounts of carbon-carbon (C-C) composite tiles to fusion experiments such as JET and has participated in a European funded programme to develop C-C composites with improved thermal properties for use in the next generation of fusion devices. Success in this field producing low-density, plasma-facing components that can transfer large heat fluxes whilst retaining strength at high temperature has broadened the company’s product portfolio beyond its core aerospace market. These include non-aviation friction applications such as train brakes, brakes and clutches for Formula 1 racing cars, high-temperature furnace furniture, furnace-heating elements and heat sinks for satellite electronics systems.
The fusion experimental devices and auxiliary facilities of the European fusion research programme have almost exclusively been constructed by European industry. This has involved a high standard of engineering and frequently the development of subsystems and components at the cutting edge of existing technologies.
Many companies of varying sizes, not only large firms but also SMEs, have been involved either directly or as sub-contractors. Industry has also supplied engineering support and socioeconomic studies and costing activities.
A good example of industrial involvement is the JET project. Up to the end of the JET Joint Undertaking Agreement in1999 the total value of ‘high-tech’ contracts for construction and operation was €540 million. Hundreds of companies were involved in projects covering the whole range of systems including the vacuum vessel, pumping and gas systems, cryogenic equipment, magnetic field systems, the mechanical structure, power systems, control and data acquisition, remote handling, diagnostics and additional heating systems.
The following three examples of industry-supplied technologies for JET Systems illustrate the sort of value that industry brings to advanced fusion technology projects and the benefits derived by the companies.
Vacuum technology and high precision mechanics - SERP (France)
A French company, SERP had 25 employees at the time of the JET contract. It specialised in electron beam welding technology for the nuclear, space, automotive and petroleum industries. The work for JET involved the development of its technology for joining dissimilar metals, such as copper and inconel, copper chromium to nickel, and inconel to stainless steel. The company is now fully qualified for such welds. To meet the standard of cleanliness required by JET, the company invested in a fully enclosed clean room which has since given it the potential to increase its business, particularly with the nuclear and space industries.
Pulsed, high electrical power technology - OCEM SpA (ltaly)
OCEM SpA was a private company with 35 employees based near Bologna. The main activities of the company were in the fields of power supplies, high power DC converters, voltage and current regulators and uninterruptible power supply (UPS) units. The work for JET involved the supply of auxiliary power supplies for the neutral injector ion sources and accelerators.
This has allowed the firm to develop competence in HV insulation systems and signal transmission by fibre optic techniques, and to gain experience in high current transistors and series-connected thyristors. Other benefits derive from the introduction of standardisation in the construction of electronic modules and the use of computation codes for circuit design.
Some of the technologies acquired in the work have been transferred to other projects, for example HV power supplies for industrial lasers.
Control and data handling technology - Camtech Electronics (UK)
Camtech Electronics Ltd., was established in 1979 by its two founding directors, to work on a contract to develop a sophisticated CAMAC interface for the JET network of Norsk Data computers. CAMAC is a modular data handling system used at almost every nuclear physics research laboratory and many industrial sites all over the world. Its function is to provide a scheme to allow a wide range of modular instruments to be interfaced to a standardised back-plane called a DATAWAY.
By the end of 1980, the company had won more contracts from JET, particularly to develop the technology for fibre optic transmission between CAMAC crates – stations containing multiple data acquisition and control modules. The JET contracts sustained the company through its formative years and provided the secure base for its rapid growth in communication networks.
By the mid-1980s, it was a fast-growing company, specialising in the design and engineering of data communication networks, and it employed about 150 people.
These are only three examples from many. With the development of ITER there will be similar industrial involvement but on a greater scale due to the reactor size of the ITER device. For more details of industrial involvement in Fusion visit the EFDA website.