CERN Accelerating science

EASITrain gears up following mid-term review

Group photo taken during the MSCA EASITrain midterm review. (Image: CERN)

On the 10th and 11th of December, the MSCA EASITrain network on advanced Superconductivity and Cryogenics hold its midterm review in Brussels, Belgium. The meeting offered the opportunity to the 15 young researchers (ESRs) to present their latest scientific results and reflect on the immediate application and market potential that these technologies can languish. Moreover, the ESRs and their supervisors met with the EU project officer, Mr. Ioannis Bitsios who offered his fruitful feedback about the progress of the project, answered their questions and suggested interesting directions for the future steps of the project. 

The EASITrain project, also profits from synergies and collaborations with other EU H2020 projects. Research under EASITrain contributes to the feasibility studies of very high-field superconducting magnets, high-quality and cost-effective superconducting RF systems and on novel approaches for large-scale energy-efficient cryogenic refrigerations. These are all key technologies for more performant future particle collider while they can be utilized in many other fields; from power distribution and energy recovering to medical applications and food quality monitoring.

The event started with a comprehensive overview of the project by Dr. Johannes Gutleber, covering the key technological challenges and offering a review of the established collaboration network. In his presentation he emphasized that “one of the biggest impacts is that the effective training of early-stage researchers generates significant economic and societal benefits by increasing the lifetime salary premium for individuals, attracting global talent and increasing the competitivity of Europe’s scientific potential”. The presentation stimulated interesting discussions on the scope and impact of this network and the synergies with other H2020 projects as well as on ways to further improve the communication of results; a key component of this work.

In a series of presentations throughout the day, ESRs offered a quick overview of their work and how they efficiently use resources to tackle open technical challenges and find solutions that move the cost/performance needle of these technologies in the right direction. Their talks confirmed the innovative potential of these technologies and that much value will be gained both for the students and for the academic and industrial partners through their participation in this network.

The ESRs highlighted that every time research and development (R&D) achieves an advance in performance and a reduction in the cost, opportunities to leverage superconductivity and cryogenics into bigger markets are multiplied. The best way to manage the risk inherent to these technologies R&D development challenge is to share it via collaborative R&D profiting from established network and CERN’s long history in the development of superconductivity and cryogenics.

It was also evident that through their participation in the EASITrain network, young researchers profit from broaders networks and the chance to participate in high-profile scientific meetings. In the past twelve months, the researches were offered many opportunities to attend scientific schools and conferences around the world, thereby growing their professional network and expose to fresh ideas and learning the latest developments in the field. Stewart Leith, one of the ESRs succinctly summarized this spirit: ”It is a great experience to meet like-minded young scientists who are all pushing each other to produce the best research possible. A great way to push your career forwards and make a real impact to the world.

With the attention that EASITrain brings to superconductivity and cryogenics and appropriate technical progress through R&D, there are good reasons to envision not only a bright future for fundamental research in high-energy physics but also a “green” transformation for many industrial and domestic activities. The enabling - and often disruptive- potential of these technologies enable to deal with the most pressing problems that we face today. All this will be treacherous territory to navigate, and there will no doubt be missteps along the way. By exploring these technologies and training the future scientists and engineers to push their limits EASITrain marks a journey of creativity and exploration.

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Advancing superconductivity for future magnets

Superconductivity has been instrumental for the realization of large particle accelerators and is a key enabling technology for a future circular proton-proton collider (FCC-hh) reaching energies of 100 TeV.

The alloy Nb-Ti is undoubtedly the most successful practical superconductor, and it has been used in all superconducting particle accelerators and detectors built to date, but the higher magnetic fields required for the High Luminosity LHC (HL-LHC) upgrade and a future circular collider (FCC) call for new materials. An enabling superconducting technology for accelerator magnets beyond 10 tesla is the niobium-tin (Nb3Sn) compound.

Nb3Sn wires suitable for producing the 11 T magnets required for the HL-LHC have been produced in industry, but the high-field magnets proposed for the FCC would require a substantial step forward in performance. In order to achieve this goal, a conductor development programme is under way at CERN.

To address the challenges of this project, a Conductor Development Workshop has bene launched by CERN. Amalia Ballarino, leader of the Superconductor and Superconducting Devices (SCD) section says: “It is the right time to create momentum for the FCC study and to bring together the current participants in our conductor development project to share recent progress and discuss future activities.”

The focus of the conductor development programme is on the development of Nb3Sn multi-filamentary wires able to meet the target non-copper critical current density (Jc) performance of 1,500 A/mm2 at 16 T and at a temperature of 4.2 K (-268.95 °C). CERN is engaged in collaborative conductor development activities with a number of industrial and academic partners to achieve these challenging goals, and the initial phase of the programme will last four years.

Presently, the conductor developed for HL-LHC reaches a performance of about 1,000–1200 A/mm2 at 16 T and 4.2 K, and a significant R&D effort is needed to increase this by 30 to 50% to meet the requirements of 16 T magnets. “The magnets for future higher energy accelerators require fundamental research on superconductors to achieve the targets in performance and cost,” says Ballarino. For the FCC magnets, thousands of tonnes of superconductor will be required. Along with an increase in performance, a more competitive cost is needed, which calls for a wire design suitable for industrial-scale production at a considerably lower cost than the state-of-the-art conductor.

Representatives from five research institutes and seven companies, from the US, Japan, Korea, Russia, China and Europe, travelled to CERN in March 2018 to attend the first Conductor Development Workshop. “Our aim is to open up a space where collaborators can discuss the current status and review different approaches to meet the target performance and cost. The meeting also serves as an invitation to potential new partners interested in joining this effort”. Two new companies attended the workshop to discuss their possible future involvement in the project, namely Luvata and Western Superconducting Technologies (WST).

The workshop started with a plenary session followed by closed meetings during which companies engaged in fruitful discussions.  “Presentations in the plenary session gave a valuable overview of progress and future directions,” observed Simon Hopkins, a CERN expert on superconductivity and scientific secretary of the workshop, “but we recognise the commercial sensitivity of some of these developments. It was essential to provide an environment in which our industrial partners were free to discuss the details openly: both their proposed technical solutions and a realistic assessment of the challenges ahead.”

First Future Circular Collider conductor development workshop (Credit: Athina Papageorgiou-Koufidou).

The early involvement of industry, and their investment in developing new technologies, is crucial for the success of the programme. One of the positive outcomes of this meeting has been that, according to Amalia Ballarino: “Thanks to their commitment to the programme, and with CERN’s support, companies are now investing in a transition to internal tin processes. It was impressive to see achievements after only one year of activity”. Several partners have produced wire with Jc performance close to or exceeding the HL-LHC specification, and all of the companies that attended the workshop had new designs to present, some of which are very innovative.

Cross-sections of prototype Nb3Sn wires developed in collaboration with CERN as part of the FCC conductor development programme.Top: optical micrographs of wires from Kiswire Advanced Technology. Bottom: electron micrographs showing a wire developed by JASTEC in collaboration with KEK. Both show the unreacted wire before the heat treatment to form the Nb3Sn compound from the niobium filaments and tin. (Credit: KAT/JASTEC. The image originally appeared in the CERN Courier, June, 2018). 

The companies already producing Nb3Sn superconducting wire for the programme are Kiswire Advanced Technology Co., Ltd. (KAT); TVEL Fuel Company supported by the Bochvar Institute (JSC VNIINM); and from Japan, Furukawa Electric Co. Ltd. and Japan Superconductor Technology Inc. (JASTEC), coordinated by the Japanese High Energy Accelerator Research Organisation, KEK. Columbus Superconductor SpA will participate in the programme for other superconducting materials.  Arrangements are now being finalised for Luvata and another manufacturer, Bruker EAS, to join the programme; and the participation of our Russian partner, TVEL, has been renewed.

Moreover, the organizers acknowledged the contribution of the academic partners, who are developing innovative approaches for the characterization of superconducting wires, as well as investigating new materials and processes that could help meet the required targets. Developments include the correlation of microstructures, compositional variations and superconducting properties in TU Wien; research into promising internal oxidation routes in the University of Geneva; the study of phase transformations at TU Bergakademie Freiberg; and conductors based on novel superconductors at CNR-SPIN.

Finally, during the two-day workshop a panel of experts reviewed the conductor programme and offered their invaluable insights during the last session of the workshop. Their recommendations centred on the scope and focus of the programme, encouraging an emphasis on novel approaches to achieve a breakthrough in performance, with the broadest possible participation of industrial partners, underpinned by close long-term partnerships with research institutions. “We fully share the panel’s ambition for developing novel approaches with our industrial partners,” agreed Hopkins. “Improving our understanding of the materials science of Nb3Sn wires is also essential for developing new and optimised processing methods, and we welcome the contribution of new research institutes”. A US research institute, the Applied Superconductivity Center based in the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory (Florida State University) has also joined the programme.

 

The structure of the FCC Conductor Development Programme, showing the activities (shaded boxes) and partners. A dotted outline and italic text indicate pending participants, whose participation is currently being finalised. (Credit: CERN)

Since the workshop, partners in the conductor development programme have continued to make good progress: the latest results will be presented at the Applied Superconductivity Conference in October 2018 (Seattle, USA), and a second edition of the workshop is planned in 2019.

We are confident that this will result in a new class of high-performance Nb3Sn material suitable not only for accelerator magnets, but also for other large-scale applications such as high field NMR and laboratory solenoids or MRI scanners for medical research.

 

Top image:  High-performance Nb3Sn cables are being assembled by a Rutherford cabling machine in CERN's superconducting laboratory (Credits: CERN). 

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