As the ITER Fusion Energy Project gets underway, Dan Mistry of the UK Atomic Energy Authority looks at the opportunities it presents for UK companies.
Dan Mistry, UKAEA?s Fusion and Industry manager
Realising the potential of nuclear fusion as a large-scale energy source has moved a step closer with the construction of the International Tokamak Experimental Reactor (ITER) www.iter.org) at Cadarache in France. One of the world?s largest international co-operative research and development projects, ITER will cost over E5bn by the time it is completed in 10 years? time.
?UK companies are already helping to provide the innovative engineering technology needed for ITER,? says Dan Mistry, head of the UK Atomic Energy Authority?s (UKAEA) Fusion and Industry team and champion for UK industry involvement in the project. What is driving the research into fusion power as an alternative to fossil fuels is the promise of an energy source with raw fuels that are abundant and available everywhere. Moreover, it will have a low impact on the environment ? no CO² greenhouse gas emissions ? and, unlike nuclear fission, there is no very long-lived radioactive waste to create a burden on future generations.
Fusion research is a global initiative. ITER is funded by the European Union, China, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, and the US; and many countries have their own smallerscale fusion projects.
Fusion research in the UK is conducted by the UKAEA at the Culham Science Centre in Oxfordshire. The Centre is home to the UK?s fusion programme (jointly funded by the UK?s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and EURATOM) most notably the MAST (Mega Amp Spherical Tokamak) experiment. It is also home to the world?s largest fusion experiment, the Joint European Torus (JET), run by the European Fusion Development Agreement, which produces plasma with temperatures in excess of 150 million°C. ITER will build on the success of JET. Over twice the physical size of JET, it will demonstrate the integrated physics and engineering needed for a power station and is designed to produce 500 MW of fusion power.
WHAT IS FUSION?
UKAEA MAST fusion plasma
Fusion is responsible for the heat produced by the Sun. When nuclei of light atoms come together at very high temperatures they fuse and produce enormous amounts of energy. In the core of the Sun, the huge gravitational pressure allows this to happen at temperatures of around 15 million degrees Celsius. At the much lower pressures that we can produce here on Earth, temperatures to produce effective fusion need to be much higher. Effective energy-producing fusion requires that gas with a mixture of heavy forms of hydrogen ? deuterium (D) and tritium (T) ? is heated to very high temperatures (over 100 million degrees Celsius) at which it is fully ionised, that is a ?plasma?. The D and T fuse together to give a neutron and a helium nucleus, which both have lots of energy.
To reach these temperatures there must first be powerful heating, and thermal losses need to be minimised by keeping the plasma away from the walls of the container. This is achieved by creating a magnetic ?cage? made by strong magnetic fields, which prevent the plasma from escaping. In a fusion power station, the energetic helium nuclei will stay in the plasma to keep it hot, while the neutrons ? as they do not feel the magnetic field ? will leave the plasma and be a source of heat to produce electricity in the conventional way.
DRIVE FOR INNOVATION
ITER is an experimental reactor. Its primary aim is to produce more energy than it consumes. Also, ITER will implement and test the key technologies and processes needed for future fusion power plants ? including superconducting magnets, components able to withstand high heat loads, and remote handling. Lastly, ITER will test and develop concepts for breeding tritium from the neutrons hitting lithium-containing materials inside thermally-efficient, high-temperature blankets surrounding the plasma. All these represent significant technical challenges where industry will have a vital role in developing innovative solutions.
ITER construction offers UK companies a number of business opportunities, including civil, mechanical and electrical engineering, consultancy services and project management through to instrumentation, advanced materials and precision engineering. Engineering areas of particular relevance to ITER include: development and manufacture of high heat flux components; high power electrical engineering; vacuum and pumping systems; remote handling; multi-megawatt particle beams and radio frequency wave heating systems; laser and optical diagnostics; a wide range of instrumentation; nuclear systems; and computing, data acquisition and control systems.
Within the UK, UKAEA?s Fusion and Industry team is responsible for assisting UK companies in making the most of the business opportunities arising from fusion research, and especially ITER. It works on this with UKTI and the Regional Development Agencies, and with the Sensors & Instrumentation Knowledge Transfer Network, which has the remit of increasing UK industrial involvement in ?big science? research facilities.
In addition to its knowledge of the ITER project and the central team in France, UKAEA has links with Fusion for Energy (F4E), the Domestic Agency for European procurements based in Barcelona. Ninety per cent of ITER procurement will be handled by ?Domestic Agencies? in the seven partners, with Europe being responsible for over a third of all contracts; most of the ITER contracts open to UK companies will therefore be placed by F4E.
ITER cadarache, a schematic of what the ITER site will look like when it?s completed
DATABASE REGISTRATION VITAL
Procurement by F4E will be largely database driven. ?Currently we have over 200 UK companies on Europe?s database, but this is only a drop in the ocean compared with the tremendous expertise that exists within UK industry. Our message to UK industry is look very seriously at these opportunities, they range from conventional to leading-edge engineering, and also include consultancy and project management,? notes Dan Mistry.
Companies should register on the F4E procurement database (http://eidi.f4e.europa.eu), which will be used when sending out requests for expressions of interest. Another important database is the Fusion and Industry database at www.fusion-industry.org.uk. By registering on this database companies will also hear about ITER projects, other contract opportunities from fusion, related industry/ government initiatives and workshops, and events being held at Culham and elsewhere.
Some fusion contracts are by their very nature technically demanding, often one-off projects, where there is a good deal of interaction between the supplier and fusion engineers and scientists. Dan Mistry observes: ?Many companies welcome the mentoring role played by fusion engineers and then build on this experience to grow their own businesses through higher-quality products and services and translating the experience into new markets. Involvement by companies in big science projects has been shown to have knock-on benefits to suppliers worth up to three times the value of the original project through new business.?
JET, inside the torus
OPPORTUNITIES FOR LARGE AND SMALL CONTRACTS
Dan Mistry sees sub-contracting as presenting the greatest business opportunities for many UK companies. This is largely because F4E is expected to break Europe?s contribution to ITER into relatively large contracts (perhaps ranging from two to many tens of million Euros) for the supply of components and systems, plus smaller service contracts for engineering design/support during construction. Companies intending to bid as main contractors are unlikely to have the complete range of skills required in-house, and so will be seeking sub-contractors; they can ask for the details of suitable companies on the F4E database. At present Dan is using his role as deputy chairman of the European network of fusion Industry Liaison Officers (ILOs) to call for the production of guidelines for ILO members to use when ?matchmaking? companies for pan- European consortia. Early consortia opportunities involving UK companies are currently being pursued by the ILOs.
?I think ITER is a great opportunity for UK companies to win new business, either as a single supplier or as part of a consortium of companies; but they must register on both the F4E and Fusion and Industry databases,? concludes Dan Mistry.
To find out more about ITER and the business
opportunities for UK industry,
contact Dan Mistry
at UKAEA Culham Science Centre on:
Tel: 01235 466607
Added the 10 September 2008 in category Innovation UK Vol4-1