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17 Nov, 2021
Técnicas Reunidas is one of the seven companies participating in the development of Fusion Future, a project whose main objective is to make a significant contribution to the technological developments necessary to make possible the use of a new energy source – nuclear fusion – which could provide a definitive response to the challenge of climate change and the need for energy in almost infinite quantities.
Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time. And it is not yet clear that we are really in a position to overcome it. There is a broad international consensus on its seriousness; the targets to be met are known and by what dates it will be essential to meet them; many of the solutions to be applied have been identified and important steps forward are being taken in their implementation…, but it is also known that the difficulties in achieving them are many and of extraordinary magnitude.
One of them is how to make the increase in energy consumption compatible with the decarbonization of the economy. Indeed, despite the great advances in energy efficiency that are being made, it seems clear that global energy demand will inevitably be driven significantly in the coming years by economic growth which, especially in the less developed areas of the globe, is necessary to ensure better living conditions for all citizens. In fact, it is currently estimated that global energy consumption will grow by almost 50% between 2018 and 2050, mainly due to strong economic development in some regions and population growth.
Ensuring that this does not jeopardize the unavoidable objective of promoting the decarbonization of the economy – for example, by aiming for a climate-neutral Europe by 2050, as the European Union has done – requires, among other initiatives, a massive deployment of renewable energies.
However, while the progress being made in this area is also very significant, the fact remains that the main renewable sources currently available have a number of intrinsic limitations, such as diffuse nature, intermittency and variability.
For this reason, an energy alternative that has been in the pipeline for many years and whose maturation would facilitate the availability of energy in quantities compatible with the great challenge we face is becoming increasingly relevant. This is fusion energy.
In a very elementary way, nuclear fusion energy can be said to be the “reverse version” of nuclear fission energy. It is a reaction in which the nucleus of a heavy atom splits into two or more nuclei of lighter atoms when a neutron hits the first one, generating large amounts of energy, as happens in nuclear power plants.
A nuclear fusion reaction is a reaction in which two nuclei of light atoms, usually hydrogen and its isotopes (deuterium and tritium), join together to form another heavier nucleus, releasing enormous amounts of energy in the process. Basically, this is the type of reaction that occurs continuously in the sun and stars.
What is important and decisive for our energy future is not only that these quantities of energy are far greater than those released in the nuclear fission process, but that they can theoretically be obtained from elements that are very abundant in nature and through a reaction that does not have a negative impact on the environment.
For all these reasons, utilization of nuclear fusion energy is one of the major scientific and technological challenges facing mankind and there is hope that, if technological developments make it possible, it will become the ultimate solution to the energy problem of the future. The problem is that, for the moment, the hopes placed in it are as great as the technological difficulties that need to be overcome to make it available.
In order to achieve a nuclear fusion reaction, extraordinarily high levels of energy are needed to bring the nuclei of the light elements used in the process close together at very short distances where the force of nuclear attraction exceeds the forces of repulsion.
This requires, among other complex requirements, the use of particle accelerators or heating processes at very high temperatures until a gaseous mass, called a plasma, is achieved, which must have a high density and be confined at these high temperatures for the time necessary for the fusion reaction to take place.
One of the most important breakthroughs on this difficult path was the agreement in 2006 by the European Union, Japan, the United States, South Korea, India, Russia and China to develop an experimental nuclear fusion reactor, called ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor), which is still under construction in the south of France.
The next major step in this roadmap is the development of another fusion reactor, in this case a demonstration reactor, to generate electricity. This is the so-called DEMO (DEMOnstration Power Station).
Making the technological leap needed to make DEMO possible requires materials capable of withstanding intense and prolonged neutron irradiation. For this reason, the European Fusion Programme is considering the development of DONES (DEMO-Oriented Neutron Source), a facility capable of producing a high neutron flux that will make it possible to investigate the behaviour of the materials required for the construction of future fusion reactors.
It is in this context that the Fusion Future project arises, as its essential objective is to investigate new materials, processes and advanced technologies that contribute to addressing the main critical issues that need to be overcome on the road to nuclear fusion energy in the field of DONES, in the first instance, and with a view to the construction of DEMO, as a subsequent key milestone.
Given the ambitious scope of the Fusion Future project, its implementation has been undertaken by a consortium of companies specialized in various fields of activity in order to leverage their respective specific expertise and experience, generate synergies and foster knowledge transfer between them.
Specifically, the consortium is made up of Empresarios Agrupados Internacional, S.A. (EAI), an international engineering company with a strong presence in the nuclear sector, which is the coordinator of the project; Leading Metal Mechanic Solutions, S.L. (Leading), a company specialised in advanced metal-mechanic solutions; Added Value Industrial Engineering Solutions, S.L.U. (AVS), a company specialising in complex and science-critical equipment; Innerspec Technologies Europe, S.L. (Innerspec), a company specialising in complex and science-critical equipment; Innerspec Technologies Europe, S.L. (Innerspec), a company specialising in high-powered solutions for non-destructive testing; Sener Rymsa Rf, S.L.U. (Rymsa), a company specialising in radiofrequency and microwave devices; Sener Aeroespacial, S.A. (Sener), a company specialising in engineering and manufacturing of radiofrequency and microwave devices. (Sener), an engineering company that is a benchmark in scientific installations; and Técnicas Reunidas, S.A. (TR), as one of the most important companies in the field of scientific installations. (TR), as one of the leading engineering companies in its sector on an international scale.
In addition, the project has the collaboration of four research organisations: the Centro de Investigaciones Energéticas, Medioambientales y Tecnológicas (CIEMAT), Tecnalia Research & Innovation (Tecnalia), the Centro Tecnológico de Componentes (CTC) and the Fundación Tekniker (Tekniker).
It should be noted that the project has been subsidised by the CDTI (Centre for the Development of Industrial Technology), through the call for the “CDTI Missions” Programme for 2019, and that its estimated execution period is 2020-2023.
Técnicas Reunidas' specific contribution to the Fusion Future project consists mainly of research into new heat exchange systems associated with the power conversion cycle with the following specific objectives:
To generate new knowledge in the field of heat transfer, in general, and its application to fusion energy, in particular, so that the company can materialize its firm commitment to R&D, thus contributing to the generation of new technologies.
To develop heat transfer designs suitable for application in the power generation system in the field of fusion reactors in a high temperature liquid metal environment.
Investigate the interaction of liquid metal with the materials identified as having the greatest potential to meet the requirements of the power conversion system.
Identify suitable ceramic functional coatings to meet the extreme operating conditions encountered in the heat exchanger environment.
Apply advanced mixed manufacturing processes to obtain parts with complex geometries and materials.
Subsidised by the CDTI and supported by the Ministry of Science and Innovation.
18 May, 2022