UK manufacturing and consultancy companies have the potential to benefit from a €200-300 million annual spend over the next 10 years. The focus is the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) nuclear fusion reactor, which is being built at Cadarache in Southern France, some 60-70 km north east of Marseille. First plasma – fire-up of the nuclear fusion reactor – is expected to be in 2018, but the project has already slipped two years.
Spearheading the drive to get UK companies involved is the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority's (UKAEA) Dan Mistry, fusion and industry manager, based at UKAEA's Culham facility near Abingdon, Oxfordshire. "Indirectly, via Europe, the UK is contributing many millions annually to ITER construction: depending on what we do, the UK can either get nothing or it can get something back for its contribution. It is my intention to help industry win as much work as possible," he underlines.
ITER construction will cost well in excess of €5 billion and is 50 per cent funded by the EU, with 10 per cent each drawn from Russia, China, Japan, Korea, the USA and India – now, that's 110 per cent, of course, but India was a late- comer and so this contribution is assigned as contingency.
In broad terms, the project includes the clearing of a 40 hectare greenfield site (underway); designing, erecting and equipping buildings; specialist facilities, such as the building and equipping of a superconducting magnets manufacturing and assembly hall; and, of course, the manufacture of parts for the very heart of the nuclear fusion experiment, the so-called Tokamak (diagram, below). The UK is bidding for Tokamak segment production.These will need to be electron beam welded in situ, another forthcoming business opportunity that takes in process development, training, and equipment manufacture and delivery.
There is also the requirement for a 1,500 tonne crane to lift parts of the Tokamak into the building. ITER is a huge civil, mechanical, electrical, nuclear and electronic engineering project, in support of frontier-breaking science.
Image: Dan Mistry, seen here next to a model of a Tokamak, is aiming to make sure that UK companies get the opportunity to bid for ITER business
But high profile elements, perhaps, mask the broad opportunity. There are, says Mr Mistry, several million components that will have to be made in support of ITER – this includes the large, sexy bits, like the Tokamak, plus ordinary engineered products, including, literally, nuts and bolts. "About 80 per cent of the parts will use conventional engineering expertise; the rest will be the challenging bits, like the Tokamak chamber segments, etc, which will stretch the current industrial capabilities." For UK companies, the opportunity to get a slice of the ITER spend is gained via UKAEA's Mr Mistry, and revolves around the UK company database that he has established and grown over the past four years.
When he took on the role some four years ago, there were, he says, perhaps 30 to 40 companies with which UKAEA had good contact – there was no database, as such. Today he has around 1,000 UK companies and 1,700 contacts within them. And his plea is for companies not to "sit-back, but to at least look at the [ITER] website and get an overview of the programme, so that they know how to respond when opportunities arise".
Around 90 per cent of all ITER spend will be in the form of 'in kind' contributions from the ITER partner countries. The UK is offering no such in-kind contribution; it is making a pure cash payment to Brussels. As host, France is providing additional 'in kind' contribution by building new roads, schools and enhancing the infrastructure to receive large components that will be needed for ITER, for example.
However, unlike other similar 'scientific' EU projects, there is no agreement that any partner country will get a particular proportion of the EU's 'in kind' spend, so Mr Mistry comments that UK companies should get involved early to help deliver Europe's 'in kind' contributions and get involved in the enhancement of the infrastructure, although the latter is well advanced.
Non-EU ITER partners are likely to source their 'in kind' element from within their own territories, although they may also decide to go world-wide.
The EU's 'in kind' work is placed via The Fusion for Energy (F4E) organisation, headquartered in Barcelona, Spain. The remaining 10 per cent that is not 'in kind' spend is placed by the ITER International Organisation (ITER IO), based at Cadarache, France. All opportunities appear on the F4E website: http://fusionforenergy.europa.eu, although ITER IO requests are termed 'calls' and F4E requirements are noted as 'procurements' on the site.
For the most part, the EU's 'in kind' requirement is open to EU countries only, although some so-called work packages have been opened up world-wide, reports Mr Mistry. The 10 per cent placed by ITER IO is open to all ITER partners.
It should be underlined that the standard ITER language is English, so there's no necessity to trawl through a foreign language website or submit tenders in another language.
But the first step for any company interested in becoming involved with the ITER project is to visit the UKAEA website (www.fusion-industry.org.uk/industry.htm) and register on the supplier database – "I will then make sure that they get to know about opportunities," Mr Mistry emphasises. The website page also has a link to a list of required fusion technologies and services, which offers an initial guide to companies in terms of matching requirement to skillset.
For a more thorough understanding of the project and the tendering process, he encourages companies to contact him directly (email@example.com). "We want companies to come here [UKAEA, Culham] and see the world's leading fusion reactor programme - JET – then decide whether they want to engage with ITER, or not, because ITER's design is based on JET (see box item)."
Companies need also to register separately on the European Industrial Database for ITER, which is found at: http://eidi.f4e.europa.eu. Mr Mistry advises companies to view the list of 'activity codes' from this website and then contact him before registering their interest. He believes that UK companies have a large presence within this particular database, but wants to see more companies on it, otherwise they could miss out on business opportunities.
Image: Inside the Tokamak's chamber – a high temperature plasma is created and partially contained within a magnetic field
While companies can view requirements for large contracts at http://fusionforenergy.europa.eu, he will also circulate these by email to his UK industrial contacts. As an aside, apart from ITER, other fusion laboratories approach UKAEA with requests for parts and services, which are similarly circulated, while visitors to UKAEA similarly ask about industrial expertise in the UK - annual global fusion technology spend is around €1 billion.
But UKAEA's man does not just adopt a passive role, forwarding published information; he also proactively tries to build consortia or get companies to network. "I say, 'if an opportunity is not for you, please, if you know another company that might be more suitable, pass it on' – that way, the work stands a better chance of coming to UK PLC." This approach has already worked with the JET project – see box item. In addition, if a project is large and a UK company can satisfy part of the requirement, Mr Mistry will circulate this information too, in an effort to get a group working together.
Furthermore, if a work package is awarded to a foreign company, he has requested for the contract award to name both the winner and a contact point, together with the areas of external expertise it will require, so that companies satisfying those requirements have the opportunity to get involved, either direct or, once again, via the UKAEA.
The UKAEA is also to host events to highlight specific opportunities related to various technology areas. For example, on September 22, a remote handing event will take place at Culham. And while it is likely to be most attractive to OEMs offering such technology, Mr Mistry says that smaller companies are encouraged to come and network with the OEMs to start building networks from the word go. Such briefing events are intended to be held at least six months ahead of a call for tenders.
The ITER project is already large, and is likely to grow. To successfully develop fusion technology as a commercial reality, an International Fusion Materials Irradiation Facility (IFMIF – www.frascati.enea.it/ifmif) is needed. Currently early validation and design activity is underway and, if the programme is given a green light, there could further €1 billion worth of business opportunities for industry. Mr Mistry will, once again, be doing his level best to make sure UK companies get involved. He is clearly a man that UK industry should make it their business to get to know.
Fusion is the process at the core of our sun. What we see as light and feel as warmth is the result of a fusion reaction: hydrogen nuclei collide, fuse into heavier helium atoms and release tremendous amounts of energy in the process. On earth, the reaction between two hydrogen isotopes, deuterium and tritium, is employed and produces the highest energy gain at the 'lowest' temperatures. It requires, nonetheless, temperatures of 150 million °C – ten times higher than the reaction occurring at the sun's core. The ITER machine is based on the 'Tokamak' concept (diagram left) where a magnetic field confines the hot plasma of the fusion reaction within a doughnut-shaped vessel. With a height of 29 m and a diameter of 28 m, ITER will be the world's largest Tokamak. Some 80 per cent of the energy produced is carried away from the plasma by neutrons that cannot be contained magnetically, since they have no charge, with the heat energy transferred to the surrounding walls of the Tokamak. In ITER, this heat will be dispersed through cooling towers, while in the subsequent fusion plant prototype DEMO and in future industrial fusion installations, the heat will be used to produce steam and – by way of turbines and alternators – generate electricity
UK consortium bidding for Tokamak components
Sheffield-based Davy Markham, a specialist in the fabrication and machining of large structures, and precision fabricator Metalcraft, Cambridge, have joined together to bid for Tokamak vacuum chamber work, bidding for the production of seven Tokamak segments. Engineering consultancy AMEC and The Welding Institute are providing specialist support that will be needed during the construction of the vacuum vessel segments. Contracts for the ITER vacuum vessel are likely to be placed during 2009/2010.
Kevin Parkin, managing director of Davy Markham, explains the background to the consortium: "ITER represents an exciting business opportunity for us and the rest of UK engineering. The vacuum vessel is a significant engineering challenge that no single company is capable of supplying," he says. "So we've put a consortium together with fabrication specialist Metalcraft, AMEC providing design and programme management services, and The Welding Institute offering technical support, to enable us to present a solid technical and commercial case."
Davy Markham and Metalcraft of Cambridgeshire have worked together previously on projects at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. Metalcraft has significant experience of manufacturing vacuum and ultra-high vacuum vessels for major scientific projects, including the CERN Large Hadron Collider.
A UK consortium is also looking at the radial plates for the toroidal field coil magnets, complex 16 by 9 m D-shaped stainless steel plates, with grooves on both sides to contain conductors. It represents one of the most critical and expensive components of the 10 Toroidal Field coils that procurement body Fusion for Energy must source. In total, 70 radial plates must be procured. The tender for these is yet to be launched.
JET – more fusion opportunities
Companies working with UKAEA have already benefited from the refit programme at JET (the Joint European Torus fusion experiment, located at Culham), winning around 1/3 (€32-35 million) of the biggest round of competitive tenders. "What we have found is that companies that have succeeded have often come from different sectors: motorsport, for example. Indeed, one company with a turnover of around £6 million won business to the tune of around £5.5 million," explains Mr Mistry. This was won on the back of an opportunity passed on informally by one company to another, here in the UK.
The 26-year-old JET will be shut down during the coming months for upgrade work, the contracts to support that having all now closed. JET is expected to operate for up to 10 more years in the run-up to ITER's start-up and further industrial opportunities look likely in that period, which may provide further tendering potential for UK firms.
UK wins the business
Oxford Instruments, the world's leading supplier of superconducting materials, has, subject to contract, been selected to supply 58 tonnes of superconducting wire to ITER, at a value in excess of £30 million. The wire is an essential part of the Toroidal Field Magnets used to contain the plasma generated by the fusion process.
First published in Machinery August 2009