21 August 2017
UK engineers have developed a new type of energy-saving magnet for the next generation of particle accelerator that will not only save substantially on energy costs but also offers savings in the scale of such instruments.
Particle accelerators are machines that use electromagnetic fields to propel charged particles to nearly light speed whilst keeping them focused in well-defined beams and have been responsible for achieving some of the greatest scientific breakthroughs in human history - CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland enabled scientists to discover the Higgs boson. And while the LHC will continue to deliver ground-breaking science at CERN for years to come, physicists are already considering and planning for their next large scale research facility.
The Compact Linear Collider (CLIC) is one of those considerations – a 50km long accelerator being proposed for CERN; it will reach record-breaking energies and be the most powerful electron accelerator ever built.
However, one of the key challenges faced when designing and building a next generation particle accelerator is energy consumption and the associated financial and environmental cost. A large portion of the energy requirements are in the flexible, tuneable electromagnets that are used to bend and focus the beam, and which require a considerable amount of energy to operate, unlike permanent, fixed magnets that do not need a power supply. There is also the cost of powering the necessary water cooling systems with chillers and pumps associated with tuneable magnets.
Permanent magnets that are tuneable have not been developed with large scale production in mind until now but, commissioned by CERN, scientists and engineers at STFC’s Daresbury Laboratory in Cheshire have successfully designed, built and patented the ZEPTO (Zero Power Tuneable Optics) focussing magnets. The ZEPTO magnet is a brand new type of permanent but tuneable energy saving quadrupole magnet that could power particle accelerators at a fraction of the energy cost, making it a viable consideration for CERN’s next large scale facility. Should CLIC be cleared for construction, CERN will require more than 40,000 ZEPTO magnets.
Professor Jim Clarke, Head of Science Division at STFC’s Accelerator Science and Technology Centre at Daresbury, said: “Designing and building the ZEPTO magnets for CERN is a fantastic achievement for STFC, and confirms STFC’s ability to design, develop and test the brand new technologies required to build the world’s next generations of research facilities. CERN needed a new type of magnet that was permanent, adjustable, environmentally-friendly and almost free to run. It also needed to be easily up-scalable considering how many they’d need, and we’re thrilled to have met their challenge.”
The technology behind this brand new magnet designed by Professor Clarke and his team was patented through STFC’s Business and Innovations Division, which is responsible for the commercial exploitation of technology and intellectual property developed at STFC. As a result the technology has been licensed to Danfysik A/S, a world leading provider of components for particle accelerators worldwide.
Henning Bach Christensen, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Danfysik, said: “Danfysik is looking forward to bringing STFC’s permanent based ‘Green’ magnet technology to the market. As a leading provider of permanent based magnet technologies for replacing traditional electromagnets, under the name ‘Green Magnet Technology’, the ZEPTO magnet concept is a perfect match to our product portfolio. The future accelerator systems will benefit from zero energy consumption and inexpensive infrastructure – no power and no cooling.”
Working alongside Danfysik this breakthrough from the STFC team has the potential to offer real benefits in the construction of accelerators for healthcare applications such as particle therapy systems.
Danfysik A/S provides high-performance particle accelerators and related equipment for research, health care and industry globally. They develop, design and manufacture components for particle accelerators: magnets (conventional, superconducting, permanent, special and compact), ultra-stable magnet power supplies, undulators, wigglers, electrostatics and beam diagnostic equipment. They have supplied to and partnered with major synchrotron accelerator developments in recent years including Diamond Light Source, Australian Synchrotron and Max IV. In addition, they design and produce the complete synchrotron accelerator system for particle therapy, to treat cancer with protons and heavy ions. Danfysik is owned by the Danish Technological Institute, an independent non-profit organisation.