Royalties for intellectual property: a big first for ITER!

The technological demonstration of nuclear fusion as a power source may be a couple of decades away but we don’t have to wait till then to start reaping the benefits of research at ITER. Like all journeys of discovery we will meet unexpected obstacles and discover wondrous new sights, but sometimes it is the obstacles that provide the greatest reward when, by overcoming them, new techniques are born and intellectual property is generated.

For the first time, the ITER Organization has licensed intellectual property to a third party against royalties, in compliance with the ITER Agreement and its Annex on Information and Intellectual Property. ITER’s Legal Affairs contributed to the drafting of the agreement.

With support from AMEC, a UK-based company, the ITER Organization has developed software that allows a web-based program to display data on radiation calculations throughout the ITER facilities. Due to the potential applications of this software for technological areas outside of ITER and/or fusion research and development, a private company from one of the ITER Members has requested a license in order to commercially exploit this software.

Based on the principles of the ITER Agreement and its Annex on Information and Intellectual Property, the company was granted a non-exclusive, non-transferable, worldwide license to access, use and sub-license the software, software package and source code or any substantial part of it. For their part, the Domestic Agencies will be entitled to a licence by the ITER Organization, as is foreseen in the Annex on Information and Intellectual Property of the ITER Agreement.

Nuclear fusion produces radiation in the form of neutrons and gamma rays. The fusion machine is therefore designed to withstand this radiation and the buildings to shield the workers and the public. For the engineers designing the disparate components that make up the ITER machine, it is necessary to know the radiation levels that their particular system is likely to encounter.

This calculation is done by running massive computer simulations of how radiation travels through the complex geometry of pipes, walls, floors, doors and staircases of the ITER complex. Radiation maps result—something like electronic atlases showing what the radiation levels will be in every room for different operating states of ITER and during cask transfer.

How do you create an atlas accessible to anyone who needs it, easy enough to interpret, and containing all the information they need?

For this, you need a database capable of holding millions of 3D maps, a way to display them, and access through the intranet. This might sound easy enough but this was one of those occasions where unforeseen problems were encountered. The ITER Organization successfully developed a specially designed computer application to link the various tools and provide a communication protocol between them.

Lawson’s magic formula

In 1955 a young engineer working on nuclear fusion decided to work out exactly how enormous the task of achieving fusion is. Although his colleagues were optimistic about their prospects, he wanted to prove it to himself. His name was John Lawson, and his findings—that the conditions for fusion power relied on three vital quantities—became the landmark Lawson Criteria.

The genesis of Lawson’s Criteria is simple enough—he calculated the requirements for more energy to be created than is put in, and came up with a dependence on three quantities: temperature (T), density (n) and confinement time (τ)*. With only small evolution thanks to some subtle changes of definition, this is basically the same figure of merit used by today’s fusion scientists, the triple product, nτT.

The amount of energy created relies on particles colliding and fusing—the number of collisions is related to the number of particles in a certain region—thus n, the number density (not mass density) is Lawson’s first criterion. This would seem encouraging for the prospective experiment, as creating high pressure is relatively easy. However there is a catch. At higher densities a process known as bremsstrahlung rears its ugly head, in which collisions between nuclei and electrons generate radiation. Bremsstrahlung can become so dominant that all the power in the plasma is radiated away; the optimum density conditions are surprisingly low, around a million times less dense than air.

Nonetheless the fusion collisions—between the nuclei—have to be at high speed. This allows the nuclei to overcome their electrostatic repulsion, and get close enough for the strong force that governs fusion to take over and stick the particles together. The speed of a gas or plasma particle is equivalent to its temperature: the second of Lawson’s criteria.

Again there is a limit—if the two particles are moving really fast then the time they are in close enough proximity for fusion to occur decreases. The bremsstrahlung also increases at higher temperatures, due to faster moving electrons. The Goldilocks temperature turns out to be in the vicinity of 100—200 million degrees, a seemingly huge task in the fifties that has become a standard condition today.

* "τ" is the Greek letter tau (pronounced like "how").

Read more on the EFDA website.

Deuterium from a quantum sieve

A metal-organic framework separates hydrogen isotopes more efficiently than previous methods

Deuterium is the heavy twin brother of hydrogen; however, it is more than 20 times rarer than identical twins. It accounts for only 0.015 percent of natural hydrogen and is twice as heavy as the light isotope.

There is no chemical difference between the two isotopes: both deuterium and ordinary hydrogen react with oxygen to form water. Its double mass allows researchers to lay a trail to elucidate chemical reactions or metabolic processes, however. They dispatch a compound containing deuterium into the processes and analyze in which conversion product it turns up. And this is only one of the tasks that deuterium fulfils in research. It may even become an inexhaustible and climate-neutral fuel in future.

This would be the case if nuclear fusion becomes so technically mature that energy is generated on Earth using the same process that also occurs in the Sun. This produces much less radioactive waste than nuclear fission.

In a cooperation established within the DFG German Research Foundation’s priority program „Porous Metal-Organic Frameworks” (SPP 1362), a team of scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart, Jacobs University Bremen and the University of Augsburg have now been able to enrich deuterium contained in hydrogen more efficiently than with conventional methods.

The findings are reported in the journal Advanced Materials. The researchers discovered that a certain metal-organic framework, abbreviated MOF, absorbs deuterium more easily than common hydrogen at temperatures below minus 200 degrees Celsius.

Read more here. 

Pneumatic Shutter for Nuclear Fusion

From 2020 onwards, the ITER fusion reactor will demonstrate how nuclear fusion can be used as an energy source. However, inside the reactor, the plasma at a temperature of 100 million degrees presents scientists with huge challenges. Direct contact would destroy important optical instruments within a short period of time.

At the 27th Symposium on Fusion Technology (SOFT), from 24 to 28 September 2012 in Liège (Belgium), Jülich researchers are showing how the delicate instruments can be protected by means of new shutter and cooling systems. Among other options, they will present a patented shutter controlled by a pneumatic cylinder which was developed specifically for ultra-high vacuum.

For the first time, ITER will generate excess energy of 500 million watts for a duration of about ten minutes in order to provide us with experience for the construction of subsequent fusion power plants. Not only the burn chamber but the entire measuring technology has to be developed from scratch for this fusion experiment, which is being monitored by scientists all over the world.

Optical monitoring methods are indispensable for assessing the plasma properties and composition. However, optical elements in the vicinity of the plasma are exposed to extremely high loads. The plasma, largely composed of hydrogen and helium nuclei, erodes part of the surface material but also deposits contaminants. Thermal energy must be continuously removed in order to keep the temperature constant.

„The greatest technological challenge is to find suitable materials and designs to protect and cool the optical elements that can also be cleaned when they are installed in the machine” explains Dr. Olaf Neubauer from the Jülich Institute of Energy and Climate Research, Plasma Physics (IEK-4). Together with colleagues from Forschungszentrum Jülich and partner institutions, Neubauer organized the SOFT conference with more than 800 participants this year.

All the components in ITER’s burn chamber can essentially only be serviced by remote-controlled tools or robots. At the conference, Jülich plasma researchers are presenting a new fast shutter for a spectrometer that protects the optical instruments when they are not in use for measurements, in particular during ignition when most of the contaminating particles are mobile.

„In designing the structure, the main problem was that the shutter is exposed to even higher loads than the optical instruments themselves. Furthermore, a movement mechanism had to be invented that could cope with the extreme plasma conditions and the ultra-high vacuum," says David Castaño Bardawil. Conventional bearings cannot be used because of their abrasion and the Jülich solution therefore makes use of flexible arms. They are operated by an actuator that was specially developed and patented, into which helium is fed under pressure.

Electric drives cannot be used in the burn chamber due to the strong disturbing magnetic fields.  „The shutter is additionally protected by a molybdenum screen, which reflects the thermal radiation. Together with a sophisticated combination of thermally conducting and insulating materials this maintains an acceptable temperature,” says Castaño Bardawil, an engineer in Neubauer’s working group.

At SOFT 2012, other Jülich scientists are presenting new concepts for uniformly cooling the instrument mirrors under extreme conditions. „Large temperature differences arise on the mirror surface close to the cooling channels. With the aid of simulations, we optimized the cooling channels in order to minimize divergences,” explains Andreas Krimmer, who also works in the field of fusion technology. The temperature-related high pressure of the coolant causes other deformations. At the moment, researchers are testing various elastic materials in order to even out the deformations thus ensuring that in 2020 the fusion plasma can be ignited in Cadarache.
Source: Forschungszentrum Jülich

Click here to read the Press Release.

The ITER project at Forum Engelberg

Celebrating its 20th edition, the Forum Engelberg, a famous encounter of science and spirituality, last week looked at „tomorrow’s energy challenges” – a topic of „utmost importance”, as Abbot  Berchtold Mueller stated in his opening address held at the ancient abbey of Engelberg. For three days this idyllic Swiss mountain village was the picturesque backdrop for scientists, politicians, economists and clerics presenting and discussing various energy technologies, amongst them nuclear fusion.

Nestled in the spectacular snow-capped mountain ranges of central Switzerland, Engelberg has been a famous holiday destination for the rich and famous long before places like St. Moritz and Zermatt appeared on the tourists’ radar screens.

The organizers of the Forum Engelberg proudly pointed out that the conference’s location, the ornate „Kursaal”, was opened in 1902, „at a time when Zermatt didn’t even have a sewage system”.

But the fame of this remote mountain village dates back much further. It is closely related to the Benedictine abbey founded in 1120 which has perpetually been engaged in political and scientific debates. When, in 1989, the idea came up to find a philosophical equivalent to the big science of the Large Electron Positron Collider (LEP), the then largest particle accelerator which had just been switched on at CERN, the location for this event was soon found.

With energy challenges being the focus of the 20th Forum, and with representatives from the solar, hydro, wind and nuclear industries, and from the European Commission, gathered once more in the „Kursaal”, it was ITER Director-General Osamu Motojima who presented the ITER project and the quest to develop fusion energy.

Common controls in ITER and IFMIF

On the 20th and 21st of August several meetings took place at Rokkasho (Japan) between the CODAC  teams in charge of the machine protection and interlocks of ITER and the International Fusion Materials Irradiation Facility (IFMIF) team.

IFMIF is one of the projects of the Broader Approach Agreement between Japan and Europe, which was signed to support ITER and achieve an early realization of Fusion Energy for peaceful purpose. In particular, IFMIF must present results in parallel with ITER operation since these will allow the design of DEMO by qualifying the materials capable to withstand the neutron flux that a commercial nuclear nusion reactor will undergo.

The aim of the meetings was to establish a first contact between the controls groups of both „brother” organisations focusing on the development of the machine protection systems. The sessions started with a seminar by Antonio Vergara (ITER) summarising his experience on the design, implementation and commissioning of machine protection systems for high energy physics accelerators like the Large Hadron Collider at CERN and how the lessons learnt can be applied to ITER and IFMIF interlocks. The presentation was followed by a  series of meetings organised by the IFMIF/ Engineering Validation and Engineering Design Activities (EVEDA) Project Leader,  Juan Knaster.

IFMIF plant will bombard suitable materials reaching more than 20 displacements per atom (dpa)/year (this value means that in average an atom has been displaced from its lattice 20 times per year). This would allow to obtain within a few years of operation the expected 150 dpa at the end of life of a commercial reactor; and with neutrons at an energy spectrum around the 14 MeV (typical of a Deuterium-Tritium nuclear fusion).

The neutron flux will be obtained by accelerating at 40 MeV two parallel beams of 125 mA Deuteron current and make them collide onto a Liquid Lithium screen. The Accelerator validation will be achieved by the installation, commissioning and operation of the Linear IFMIF Accelerator Prototype ( LIPAc) which will accelerate a current of 125 mA Deuterons at 9 MeV. The current status of the LIPAc control, safety and machine protection systems were presented and discussed.

The LIPAc, like ITER, is also based on in-kind procurements. The collaborating organizations in Japan and Europe are in charge of building and installing the different plant systems of the accelerator’s prototype including their local controls, safety and machine protection systems. The international team in Rokkasho is in charge of the development of the central control systems and the entire integration and commissioning.

Not surprisingly, they are facing many of the issues and challenges related to the integration of the I&C systems that the CODAC team at ITER has been solving during the last years by the development of tools such as the Plant Control Design Handbook (a new version will be released  at the beginning of 2013) and the CODAC Core System software.

One of the main meeting conclusions was that the similarities between the two project control systems – the fact that both are based on EPICS and the equivalent procurement strategy – makes a more detailed analysis of the potential collaboration between ITER and IFMIF very desirable.  The potential to share the developed tools, and procedures and apply  knowledge and lessons learnt from the ITER controls and interlocks teams to the design and implementation of the LIPAc control systems could  result in an efficient and cost-effective collaborative approach.

Fusion Academy offers 3-day crash course

If you are a professionally involved in the fusion energy development or simply intrigued by the technological challenges of nuclear fusion then you might be interested in participating a three-day crash course offerd by the Fusion Academy.

In collaboration with Eindhoven University of Technology, the Fusion Academy has developed a unique program adopted to professionals in the fusion research and development field.
The next course is scheduled to start on Wednesday, September 19, 2012! Take your chance now to be part of this unique event.

For more information click here.

Looking into the heart of the matter

The Helmholtz Association (34,000 employees, 18 research centres) is Germany’s largest scientific organization with strategic programs in six core fields, among them the development of fusion energy. The Helmholtz Association’s nuclear fusion program is currently pursuing two priority goals: to carry out Germany’s contributions to building and operating ITER, and to finalize and operate the Wendelstein 7-X Stellarator in Greifswald.

This week, the president of the Helmholtz Association, Juergen Mlynek, assembled the heads of the German fusion research institutes and paid a visit to ITER to get first-hand information about the project’s status. The group was welcomed by ITER Deputy Director-General Rem Haange who summarized the most recent progress before the bus took the group to the very heart of the matter, the Tokamak Pit.  

Going Solar: Science Gallery features fusion energy

The issue of energy is one of the greatest challenges of our time. And the German Max Planck Society is keen to face these challenges. This involves understanding and modelling the evolution of the climate, calculating and outlining energy scenarios, and investigating the generation of energy—from artificial photosynthesis to nuclear fusion. These are all topics covered in the exhibition „Going Solar: Sustainable Alternatives for Tomorrow’s Energy Supply,” which will open 12 June in the Max Planck Science Gallery, Markgrafenstraße 37, in Berlin.

For more information please click here.