High Voltage units on ITER site to light the hot plasma

More power supplies for the ITER Electron Cyclotron, procured and financed by F4E, leaving from Ampegon, Switzerland, to be delivered to Cadarache, France.

To heat up the ITER plasma up to 150 million °C, a number of systems will unleash their super-hot power to raise its temperature in the machine. The Electron Cyclotron (EC) is one of them. Europe in collaboration with Ampegon, a Swiss manufacturer with a long tradition in power electronics, has already delivered the second unit of these supplies; which will be used to light the first ITER plasma.

Think of the EC as a powerful microwave oven. It uses electricity from the grid, and coverts it into regulated voltage, in order to supply it to gyrotrons, which in turn produce strong electromagnetic waves to heat the ITER plasma. In principle, this sounds rather straightforward but there is a catch: voltages need to be high, stable and must be able to be adjusted very quickly. In the case of the ITER, they need to guarantee precise power supply and be able to switch off in less than 10 micro-seconds! It’s on Europe to deliver the magic “matches” that will light up the biggest plasma. But, who has expertise in developing such equipment?

F4E signed a contract with Ampegon to manufacture 8 of the 12 main high voltage DC power supplies (55kV/110A) and 16 body power supplies (35kV/100mA). The company, which boasts a proven track record in radio-frequency amplifiers, has successfully transferred its know-how in high-voltage and high-current power systems. The power to operate the eight high voltage main power supplies can is comparable to household electricity for 270 000 people – the population of a medium-sized city in Europe. With two units already delivered, the company is working to deliver the remaining six. Parallel to this, Ampegon has also delivered the switchgears (switches) for the EC and the Ion Cyclotron ahead of schedule, which will deliver power from the grid to feed the Radio Frequency systems. For the time being, the equipment is in storage. During the course of this year, it will be installed in the Radio Frequency building.

power supplies unit
Another power supplies unit for the ITER Electron Cyclotron, procured and financed by F4E, leaving from Ampegon, Switzerland, to be delivered to Cadarache, France.

On behalf of F4E, Ferran Albajar, who has been following the contract with Ampegon, shares some of his thoughts on the arrival of the new units. “It gives us great satisfaction to see that we have maintained a steady flow of production leading to more deliveries on-site. The good working relationship and the well-executed planning have contributed to this seamless mode of operation which at times delivered components earlier than expected.”

Tullio Bonicelli, F4E Programme Manager for Neutral Beam & EC Power Supplies and Sources, highlights how efforts made from all parties exceeded expectations in spite of the challenges posed by COVID-19. “These deliveries, performed ahead of schedule, merit particular praise since the manufacturing occurred during the pandemic. In spite of the new restrictions imposed on the industrial activities, we managed to complete the equipment safely and earlier. This shows the commitment of the company towards F4E and the ITER project.”

loading the equipment
Loading the equipment for the ITER Electron Cyclotron, procured and financed by F4E, manufactured by Ampegon.

In recent years, there has been much talk about the impact of ITER in business and its potential to create new partnerships. The field of high-voltage power systems is no exception. In 2019, the Italian industrial group Aretè & Cocchi Technology, which also owns OCEM Power Electronics, which happens to be another supplier of F4E, created Ampegon Power Electronics AG extending its lead in the market and consolidating the Group’s pool of knowledge, its capabilities and reach.

 Dr. Simon Keens, Sales and Business Development Manager at Ampegon added: “This is an exciting time for Ampegon and ITER. We are witnessing the coming together of years of scientific research, planning, design work, and construction to create the most significant scientific endeavour since the moon missions of the 1960s and 1970s. ITER represents humankind’s greatest chance to create limitless energy from hydrogen found naturally in seawater. Thanks to the international nature of the project, the entire world will benefit, and Ampegon, alongside our sister company OCEM, is proud to play a small part in this incredible scientific venture.”