We most certainly support collaborations in fusion”, underlines Georges Bonheure, the Scientific Officer of the Research & Innovation Department of the European Commission. The physicist looks back at the 29th Symposium on Fusion Technology (SOFT) in Prague which played host to around 800 international fusion experts, from various universities, research laboratories and industries.

Celebrating teamwork

As a result, it’s hardly surprising that two out of three of the SOFT Innovation prize winners represent collaborations between key European actors. For example, the 1st prize which was awarded to a team of researchers from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and the Swiss Plasma Center (SPC). And the second prize which was collected by a group of researchers from Agenzia nazionale per le nuove tecnologie, l’energia e lo sviluppo economico sostenibile (ENEA) and Commissariat à l’énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives (CEA). The third prize was the only one awarded to a single engineer: Jonathan Naish from the Cuham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE). He convinced the jury, made up of members from both business and academia, with his virtual reality software VORTEX. The programme allows the detection of radiation hotspots in nuclear devices.

Numbers of proposals doubling

The SOFT fusion innovation prize is a fairly new concept: It was granted for the second time by the European Commission, as a part of the Euratom fusion research programme. The awards honour projects which benefit fusion science and beyond. Moreover, the ideas should provide a good opportunity to enter the market as a new technology.
After premiering with the SOFT Innovation prize 2014, the organisers have seen increased interest in the awards, with the number of proposals more than doubling. “The traditionally intense collaboration in European fusion research, which culminated in the establishment of EUROfusion, has helped to promote joint science projects” says Georges.

First prize

Croco – a new type of high temperature superconducting cable

Award: €50,000
Nominees: Walter Fietz, Michael J. Wolf, Reinhard Heller, Klaus-Peter Weiss, (all KIT), Davide Uglietti and Pierluigi Bruzzone (both SPC).
Idea: The team has developed a novel superconducting conductor concept which supports energy-efficient current transport. It might find application in future high-current cables of fusion power plants, industrial facilities, or power grids.
Jury statement: The proposal shows a practical first-of-a-kind use of the technology. It’s very positive that three patent applications have been filed as a result of this project. This invention has good potential for transferring fusion expertise to industrial applications. The prize money should be used for the invention’s transfer to fusion & power application.

Second prize

TRI2H2 – New membrane technology to produce ultra-pure hydrogen

Award: €25,000 €
Nominees: Silvano Tosti, Fabio Borgognoni, Fabrizio Marini, Alessia Santucci, (all ENEA), Karine Liger, Pierre Trabuc, Xavier Lefebvre (all CEA) and Nicolas Ghirelli (ITER).
Idea: The group has worked on membrane technologies and developed high-performance membranes to separate tritium from fusion reaction-rejected mixtures. The capabilities of membranes, made of palladium-silver alloy, have already stretched beyond fusion research, for example, to separate hydrogen from olive mill waste water.
Jury statement: The main achievement of the process is not only the decontamination of the tritiated waste but also its valorisation by recovering highly costly tritium. The invention has market potential in other fields besides fusion technologies. The originality of the proposed innovation is confirmed by two international patents for the process and the new membrane reactor.

Third prize

Vortex – a new virtual reality software technology to improve radioprotection

Award: €12,500
Nominees: Jonathan Naish (CCFE)
Idea: The VORTEX (Virtual Operator RadiaTion EXposure) software prototype combines virtual reality environments with the high-fidelity 3D data output of radiation transport calculations, such as gamma radiation dose and nuclear heating. The software has the potential to be used in a variety of nuclear environments, including those outside of the fusion arena.
Jury statement: The traditional method is slow and requires a radiation analyst to manually interrogate the mesh data and define a path. VORTEX enables any operator to use a control pad or simple computer keyboard controls to move the virtual operator. The prize money could be spent on combining this software with another project currently under development; the integration of gamma detectors with an unmanned air vehicle (UAV) to record 3-D dose data from nuclear reactors and other radiation environments.