Finland breeds business from cross-disciplinary fusion reactor research

VTT leads a new project promoting the participation of Finnish industry in the construction of Iter fusion reactor and the utilization of innovations in other fields. The project involves a cluster of companies and research institutions. Iter, under construction in Southern France, is the flagship project of fusion energy research, 

Big Science projects, like Iter, generate innovations and open direct business opportunities for industry. Typically focusing on space or physics research, Big Science project budgets reach billions of euros. In the forefront of science, technology and quality requirements are strict. For a company, becoming a partner in the delivery networks creates growth by expanding the market, accumulating valuable references and attracting new talent. VTT applies business research methods to investigate the innovation ecosystem around Iter, in order to identify an operations model that enables a quality leap for large but also small or medium enterprises. 

“Finland has collaborated in research and delivered commercial projects to ITER from its beginning, but now we will have a chance to go together on full throttle”, says Project Manager Antti Hakola from VTT. The ITER Organization was established in 2007, after which Finland has delivered fusion technology for at least 40 million euro.  

“Such demanding collaboration between research and companies does not happen by chance or with small investments. Business Finland has had the pleasure to facilitate long-term networking of the players and fund ambitious co-innovation projects. Companies are now taking great benefit from the knowhow developed in EU projects and refining it to commercial products. The work is strongly supported by the new nuclear innovation ecosystem, which is orchestrated with our growth engine funding”, tells Senior Director Jarmo Heinonen from Business Finland. 

Cross-technological research is the key element supporting the business goals of the project. Research encompasses topics is robotics, artificial intelligence, materials technology, power plant technology, fusion reactor physics as well as licensing and safety. ITER is by no means the ultimate goal, but fusion power plants following it are also already in the scope. 

“Making fusion produce electricity is the biggest challenge in energy research. Although electricity generation with fusion is still unrealistic, the research has already made progress in science and contributed with competence in various fields like materials technology and fission-based nuclear technology. In general, fusion research and technology development have been a huge global effort, creating significant business opportunities and applications elsewhere. Also Finland has been active in these topics already for decades, and investments will continue”, notes Chief Advisor Timo Haapalehto from Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment.  

VTT’s Hakola continues: “Our project relies on deep technological research, which keeps Finnish fusion expertise at the forefront in Europe and globally. In these circles, also research labs can offer their solutions together with companies. For instance, cleaning methods that we have developed with our long-term industry partners for the plasma-facing walls of a fusion reactor utilize not only engineering competences but also on thorough understanding of material and plasma physics.

The consortium’s company partners are Comatec, EOS Finland, Luvata, and Platom, while the research partners are VTT and University of Helsinki. The projects continue until 2024 and are funded by Business Finland continues, and in addition, the EU contributes significantly to the funding via the EUROfusion Consortium. 

There is a tight linkage of research activities to the FinnFusion Consortium. The parties of the FinnFusion Consortium are also Aalto University, CSC – IT Center for Science, Fortum, LUT University, Tampere University and Åbo Akademi University. FinnFusion implements Finland’s tasks in EUROfusion work programme. 

VTT is running two other Business Finland funded nuclear ecosystem projects, focusing on nuclear decommissioning and small modular reactors. In parallel, the FinNuclear Association fosters the innovation partnership between its member companies and all three ecosystem projects.  

See also University of Helsinki’s news on EU support for computational fusion science.

Additional information: Antti Hakola, Tuomas Tala  (see Contact)