Engineering fusion: Out of the tokamak and into industry

Euro Fusion Posted August 25th 2015

How can the outcome of European fusion research serve your daily life? – This is the question that FUTTA wanted to answer. The Fusion Technology Transfer Action figured out 24 original fusion
inventions that can be used by other industries. The project, initiated by the European Commission and EFDA (now EUROfusion) realised seven success stories in non-fusion technologies. Although the project has now officially come to an end, some participants hope for a sequel.

“The main aim of our project is to show society that fusion research has an impact on people’s daily life”, says Lluc Diaz, Technology Transfer Officer in the FUTTA project. The European Commission and EFDA set up the project two years ago. The idea behind it: to analyse the potential of technologies developed in the EUROfusion programme for other industries, for example automotive, aeronautics, health care or the process industry. Engineering fusion, so to speak. So, selected EUROfusion labs* joined the project along with several other partners.

European Space Agency coordinated the project

FUTTA approach
Taking fusion research into industry with the help of ESA’s broker system. (Image: EUROfusion)
The FUTTA project took advantage of an existing industry network from the European Space Agency (ESA), working with a broker system to approach the non-space market. The broker network is an infrastructure of 14 organisations that operate in most of the ESA member states. “There are a lot of similarities between fusion and space research: both have demanding applications in common requiring ultimate performances and reliability. Often the environment is extremely harsh and technologies for both Fusion and Space must reach a high Technology Readiness Level”, says Diaz. Hence, the European Space Agency (ESA) served as the coordinator for the FUTTA project.

Securing Europe’s global competitiveness

To get in touch with the market outside of fusion technology two organisations also supported FUTTA’s marketpull strategy: the UK-based Science and Technology Facilities Council and the German Centre of Satellite Navigation in Hesse. These brokers reached out via direct contact with companies, and attended more than 20 nonfusion events, such as the Hannover Fair or the Forensics and Counter Terrorism Expo in London. The FUTTA operation resulted, after all, in an outcome of 24 technologies from fusion research but which appealed to non-fusion industries. Furthermore, the brokers reached out to a total of 900 companies in order to promote the ideas. “The technologies from Europe’s space programmes have already turned out to be great problem-solvers here on Earth. The fusion technology is no different than any other in that retrospect and the FUTTA pilot has shown a lot of potential with examples of non-fusion technology applications”, says Frank Salzgeber, Head of ESA’s Technology Transfer Programme Office. “Our ESA Transfer Technology Project Office aims to transfer technologies into new or existing companies, create jobs and improve regional economies, thus helping to secure Europe’s global competitiveness. By strengthening the relationships between fusion, space and other industries, we will be able to generate more cross-technology transfer and thus, generate more impact on society.”

Safely harvesting the sun’s enery in and outside the tokamak

One of the success stories is a research result from Forschungs zentrum Jülich, which now may enter into the space industry. Jülich scientists invented “Self-passivating ‘smart’ alloys”, which were originally needed for diagnostics and plasma-facing components in the tokamak. The wall of a fusion reactor requires a cover layer with a high melting point, high thermal conductivity and low erosion. Therefore, tungsten is a typical material for tokamak vessels, just like the ITER-like wall at JET. A failure of the cooling may lead to high temperatures in the tungsten layer. Along with atmospheric oxygen, tungsten trioxide could form and pollute the plasma. Consequently, the researchers developed the smart self-passivating alloys which prevent the gas generation in the event of accidents. Within the FUTTA approach, it is now the plan to use Jülich’s invention in receivers of solar-thermic power plants.

Will there be a FUTTA 2.0?

In hindsight FUTTA gained momentum towards the finish. That is why currently 14 mediations with industrial partners are ongoing despite the official end of the project in June 2015.
In the review meeting the participants agreed that the pilot project had raised awareness and an essential step had been made. Diaz opts for FUTTA 2.0: “We would like to in volve the other EUROfusion laboratories as well. Our brokers would support them in the transfer of their technologies onto the market.”

Looking ahead down the road towards the first fusion power plant, even EUROfusion’s programme manager Tony Donné is genuinely in favour of a continuation: “From JET to ITER and DEMO, fusion research has been moving step-by-step from pure research towards an increasing amount of engineering tasks. Industry involvement is therefore a must for us. I recommend building on the experiences made, and I hope we can launch a follow-up of FUTTA in due time.”

Until then interested companies are welcome to visit the homepage of the FUTTA project: It presents presents the identified FUTTA technologies and provides further contact. There is also a brochure on Futta which can be downloaded here: