Smartec SA, the leading supplier of fibre optic solutions for geotechnical and structural monitoring projects, has supplied the ITER fusion project with bespoke solutions for remote sensing and monitoring in extreme conditions - high magnetic fields, temperatures near absolute zero, vacuum, high radiation doses and electromagnetic noise. By working with ITER, Smartec is now well-placed to take advantage of new business opportunities through its expanded range of products and expertise in providing remote sensing in extreme conditions.
Fusion energy powers the sun and the stars. The ITER project in southern France is working to build the world's largest tokamak, a magnetic fusion device that has been designed to prove the feasibility of fusion as a large-scale and carbon-free source of energy on Earth.
At ITER, the fusion fuel will be heated to temperatures in excess of 100 million ºC to form a hot gas plasma. The hot gas plasma is contained in a doughnut-shaped vessel and kept away from the walls by a strong magnetic field produced by superconducting magnet coils surrounding the vessel.
The ITER superconducting magnet coils and engineering support structures have a total weight of around10’000 tonnes. They are subjected to gravitational and seismic forces, stresses induced by large thermal contractions when cooled from room temperature to -270 °C, and large electromagnetic forces in the magnet coils when operating.
Fiber Optic Sensors for Extreme Environments
At ITER, strain, displacement and temperature sensors are required to accurately measure the movements and stresses in the supporting structures. They have to operate in extreme environmental conditions: extremely low temperatures, large magnetic fields, vacuum, high radiation doses and electromagnetic noise.
Smartec SA is the leading supplier of fibre optic solutions for geotechnical and structural monitoring projects with over 20 years experience. The company’s fibre optic sensors, using light to measure changes in structures, were the ideal technology for the task, but no off-the-shelf solution existed that matched all of the requirements for ITER.
Around 80% of the nearly 1000 measuring points at ITER rely on optical fibre-based sensors supplied by Smartec using a range of optical fibre sensing technologies: Fabry-Perot, Fibre Bragg Grating, Distributed Raman Scattering and Laser Distance Meters.
Measurements are performed using Smartec standard measurement units, placed in racks far from the low-temperature and high-radiation areas and interfacing to ITER data and control systems.
Besides the sensors themselves, Smartec had to develop a number of other ancillary components, including optical fibre cables, vacuum feed-through and mounting accessories to integrate the sensors and measurement systems into the ITER infrastructure.
A scientific project becomes a new business opportunity
After a 4 year R&D program with extensive testing in-house and at various independent laboratories, in particular at CERN, the Smartec sensors were accepted by ITER for deployment in the magnet structures.
The products and technologies developed by Smartec for this project can be used for other applications at ITER and for other projects with structures facing similar extreme environmental conditions.
By working with ITER, Smartec is now well-placed to take advantage of new business opportunities through its expanded range of products and expertise in providing remote sensing in extreme conditions.
Smartec SA was founded in 1996 as a result of the development of optical fibre sensors at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL). Today, Smartec is a leading supplier of fibre optic technology used worldwide by structural, geotechnical, energy, oil and gas industries. The quality of Smartec products and the experience of their engineers is reflected by the completion of more than 800 successful monitoring projects, located in 30 countries on all continents. Some notable monitoring projects include the Burj Kalifa (Dubai), the Duxton Complex (Singapore), the Manhattan Bridge (USA), AlpTransit - the world’s longest tunnel (Switzerland), the CERN-LHC - the world’s largest particle accelerator (Switzerland/France) and the ITER fusion reactor (France).
Chief Technology Officer