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Customized Measurement Technology: HBK Supports ITER in Fusion Experiments

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Fusion Power Plants

HBK supports ITER in fusion experiments with customized measurement technology

Conventional and renewable power generation pose many challenges and risks, such as the disposal of long-lived radioactive waste, catastrophic incidents or geographic limitation and challenges with regard to energy transfer.

To counter these challenges and ensure the availability of electricity for a growing population, the international research project ITER is being built with the aim of demonstrating fusion power at an industrial scale.

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The engineering project ITER conducts research to generate electricity from nuclear fusion to counter the challenges of conventional power generation. To measure crucial parameters and monitor the whole experiment, ITER needed a reliable partner.

In HBK, ITER found a reliable partner providing a full-chain solution for the measurements. To meet ITER's specific requirements, which often reach physical limits, HBK was able to customize its standard products.

Together with ITER HBK developed a customized MGCplus amplifier, strain gauges and thermocouples to meet the testing demands and help develop future fusion power plants.

ITER – designed to demonstrate the scientific and technological feasibility of fusion power –  will be the world's largest experimental fusion facility. Fusion is the process that powers the sun and the stars: When light atomic nuclei fuse together to form heavier ones, a large amount of energy is released. Fusion research is aimed at developing a safe, abundant and environmentally responsible energy source.

ITER is also a first-of-its-kind global collaboration. Europe is bearing almost half of the costs of its construction, while the other six members in this joint international venture (China, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation and the USA) are contributing equally towards the rest. The ITER project is under construction in Saint-Paul-lez-Durance, in the south of France.

The Ambitious Research and Engineering Project ITER

Thirty-five nations are collaborating to prove the feasibility of fusion as a large-scale and carbon-free energy source. This energy source is based on the same principle that powers the sun and the stars. Under the influence of heat and pressure, gaseous hydrogen fuels become plasma – a hot, electrically charged gas. This plasma provides the environment in which light elements can fuse and yield energy. 

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The engineering project ITER is the first fusion experiment that will produce net energy – more energy output from the plasma than input. The JET (Joint European Torus) is currently the biggest fusion reactor in the world. In 1997, it produced 16 MW fusion output power by consuming 24 MW input heating power (ratio Q = 0.67). ITER will bridge the gap between small fusion experiments and the fusion power plants of the future. The experimental fusion reactor of ITER will consume 50 MW input heating power and generate 500 MW fusion output power (Q = 10), thereby producing net energy.

ITER is aimed at achieving a deuterium-tritium plasma, which will provide more energy than previous fusion plasmas. This plasma can even be sustained for a longer duration. The tritium breeding will be tested within the vacuum vessel, to demonstrate the safety characteristics of a fusion device. 

Since 2010, ITER is being built on a cleared 42-hectare site in the south of France. The first plasma is planned for 2025. Afterwards, the ITER project will ramp up the fusion machine and operate with deuterium-tritium to achieve the last important step: building fusion power plants in the future.

HBK: A Reliable Partner for ITER

Thousands of engineers and scientists around the world are working for the ITER project, making calculations, simulations and planning the assembly. To run additional measurements, monitor important parameters during the whole experiment and validate the expected calculations, ITER needed a reliable partner for measurements in the vacuum vessel.

In HBK, ITER found a partner providing sensors, amplifiers, and software. Furthermore, HBK has a lot of expertise and could easily modify standard parts and build complete customized solutions to meet ITER's specific requirements, which often reach the physical limits.

Customized Sensor Solution

ITER required a very special and customized sensor solution to be installed on the outside of the ITER vacuum vessel, where the fusion reactions take place. This hermetically sealed steel container will operate at 100 °C and be baked at 200 °C to guarantee a clean environment for the ultra-high vacuum, that is necessary to generate the plasmas. In this environment, the sensors must fulfil different thermal-ageing and EMC testing requirements. They also need to be compatible with an ultra-high vacuum environment, withstand irradiation and have low magnetic permeability.

To customize the sensors based on the special requirements, ITER and HBK discussed suitable sensor solutions and tested them through a detailed qualification-testing procedure. Together with an external supplier, HBK even developed customized thermocouples, also testing them through a detailed qualification-testing procedure. After the customized sensors passed the qualification phase, their series production began.

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Customized Amplifier Solution

ITER required a solution ensuring maximum flexibility during the measurement with high channel counts. Since the MGCplus amplifier is available in a 19” rack frame version containing 16 measuring amplifier cards, the MGCplus was the right solution for ITER's requirements. 

Following the given configuration, 36 MGCplus amplifiers with over 920 channels were provided in total. Due to the high requirements in terms of accuracy and cable length, a combination of ML30B and AP01i was selected for the sensors based on strain gauges. For thermocouple measurement, a combination of ML801B and AP809 offering 8 measurement channels per slot was chosen. 

Due to the EMC environment in the tokamak building where the MGCplus amplifiers are installed, ITER and HBK together defined a clear testing procedure for performing the additional tests in HBK’s EMC lab, external German EMC labs and a very special lab in France for very high DC magnetic fields. 

MGCplus passed all EMC tests, exceeding standard EMC requirements by far except the very high DC magnetic field test. Different approaches to overcoming this challenge were evaluated and, eventually, the most promising was followed.

To ensure longevity and reliability, HBK created a customized solution that perfectly fits ITER. Together with an external supplier and ITER, HBK developed a suitable solution by taking out the power supply and installing it into an external shielded soft-iron house. After this modification, the high DC magnetic field test was repeated and MGCplus passed it without any issues.

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HBK Custom Systems Team

The ITER project was handled by the HBK Custom Systems Team, which dedicated itself to working on solutions for high channel count systems, customized measurement solutions and special software applications. With the help from the Custom Sensors Team, who supplied ITER with the customized strain gauges, and an external company, which provided thermocouples, ITER was able to focus on its own application and get a perfect measurement solution in time.

For ITER, the Custom Systems Team worked as a project lead to handle the qualification phase, consolidating the external suppliers and Custom Sensors Team, and customize the needed amplifier. As a confident and reliable partner, HBK was also able to react to spontaneous changes in the requirements and successfully provide the perfect fitting solution without causing any delays. After the final delivery, HBK will support ITER with its local service on-site in installing the solution properly so that the first measurements can be conducted quickly and reliably.

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