To heat up ITER’s plasma to approximately 150 million °C various powerful heating systems will need to be deployed. The Electron Cyclotron (EC) is one of them. Try to think of it a bit like a powerful microwave oven that will heat up the super-hot gas. How? Basically, the EC will convert electricity from the grid and supply it to the gyrotrons, devices that generate strong electromagnetic waves, which in turn, will transfer their energy to the electrons of the ITER plasma to heat it up and confine it better.
In order to operate the gyrotrons we would need to “feed” them with high and stable voltages. This is a twofold challenge for the EC power supplies because they need to guarantee the accurate amount of power, and ensure that its supply is in line with ITER’s operation. It takes expertise to develop a piece of equipment that can provide this amount of power and switch it off in less than 10 micro-seconds! Europe has been asked to manufacture 8 of the 12 main high voltage power supplies (55kV/110A) and 16 body power supplies (35kV/100mA) that will be required to perform this important task in the biggest fusion device. To put things into perspective, the eight high voltage main power supplies can generate enough household electricity for 270 000 people, which is the population of a medium-sized city in Europe.
Ampegon, a Swiss small medium enterprise, has been entrusted by F4E to deliver these units. The first main high voltage power supply and two of the body power supplies have successfully passed the Factory Acceptance Tests. They have reached the operational benchmark set for ITER. The collaboration started nearly four years ago and the company had to design an entirely customised equipment, given the fact that this was the first time that they would be used. The successful results have been welcomed by Ferran Albajar, following the design and manufacturing progress of this equipment on behalf of F4E. “All these years of work basically have come down to these tests. We started developing these units step-by-step bearing in mind that nothing like this has been manufactured before. The results of today’s tests prove that we are on the right track. The performance of the equipment exceeds the demanding specifications set by the contract and makes us confident that we can generate additional heating for ITER’s plasma”.
This technical achievement stems from the superb collaboration between F4E, Ampegon and ITER International Organization, with contributions from the Swiss Plasma Centre, and experts, where teams had to work hand in hand to manage the various interfaces smoothly, ensure timely execution and cope with any risks and delays. Tullio Bonicelli, Head of Head of F4E’s Neutral Beam and Electron Cyclotron, Power Supplies and Sources, stated that “this achievement is extremely gratifying for the F4E teams and our industrial partners. The excellent collaboration with ITER IO has also been vital in meeting this objective. We can now go ahead with the production of the remaining units which should be completed during 2020”.
For Josef Troxler, Ampegon CEO, working with F4E has given the company the opportunity to transfer their know-how from the field of radio frequency used in broadcasting to fusion. “Ampegon has been proud to contribute to the ITER project by pushing forward the boundaries of knowledge, both directly through our novel power supply design, and indirectly by being part of the largest scientific experiment in history— ITER. This ambitious project has the potential to revolutionise society and provide the means for the generation of clean energy for everyone on the planet. In this respect, it is a noble cause, and one that everyone should work to accomplish. This idea has motivated Ampegon to achieve this latest success, and we look forward to supporting F4E and the members of the ITER project in any way we can”.