F4E, or Fusion for Energy, is an organisation of the European Union (EU) whose task is to manage EU’s contribution to the ITER project (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor). It was founded in 2007, and its operations are planned to last for 35 years. Its members include the European Commission, EU member states and Switzerland, as an associated country.
F4E was established as part of one of the European Communities – EURATOM. Apart from pursuing its central mission related to ITER, it is responsible for cooperation with European industry and R&D sector. The purpose of cooperation is to finance projects related to the construction, production and testing of technical components of thermonuclear reactors.
Another task of F4E is to expand the European Union’s cooperation with Japan regarding the use of fusion power. It is currently based mainly on the Broader Approach Agreement on joint research on thermonuclear reactors.
ITER is an international undertaking carried out by EU member states, USA, China, South Korea, Switzerland, Russia, Japan and India. It is described as the most ambitious scientific initiative in the world.
The meaning of the acronym underlines its exceptional character. ITER is a Latin word for a “road”, which perfectly corresponds with the essence of its operations – works aimed at developing a reactor generating nuclear power with the use of mechanisms that feed our Sun and stars.
The world’s largest tokamak will be built as part of the initiative. The device will be used to perform thermonuclear reactions and carry out experiments related to the sourcing of pure energy on a large scale. Works on the construction of the ITER reactor started in 2010. The reactor will be located in Saint Paul-lez-Durance, a town in the south of France. The works are expected to end in 2025. This is when the first scientific research will start.
It should be emphasized that F4E is the main coordinator of the ITER project. The European Union is also the main source of its financing – EU’s contribution represents 45% of the entire ITER budget. Contributions of other countries taking part in the project represent approx. 9% of its financial resources. It should be noted that the estimated cost of constructing the tokamak itself is EUR 20 bn. Thus, the amount of funds distributed by the project to the industry and the R&D sector is immense.
Due to the scale of the ITER project, F4F generates large demand for various products and services. It covers not only to nuclear physics, but also everyday operations of the organisation and construction works.
The success of Fusion for Energy depends on flawless and effective cooperation with the industry and R&D organisations. It mainly focuses on the construction, production and testing of technical components of thermonuclear reactors. It is worth noting that the institution has already cooperated with hundreds of European companies and R&D organisations.
F4E’s budget for 2008-2020 is over EUR 7 bn, 60% of which will be assigned to ITER-related activity. The business sector and the R&D sector may take advantage of the funds by taking part in tenders or grant competitions. Tender proceedings are carried out on the basis of rules which comply with the regulations of the European Union, and their most important criterion is the best price-best quality relation. Depending on order value, tenders may be open or closed, have the form of negotiations or a competitive dialogue. They may be participated by companies operating in member countries. F4E does not implement a scheme balancing member countries’ share in orders. However, it constantly monitors the situation and if the number of suppliers from a specific country is visibly lower, it undertakes actions to dynamise the index.
Companies interested in cooperation with F4E should register in the organisation’s suppliers database. An affiliated portal dedicated to business publishes current tender announcements and rules of participation in tenders.
Grants are a form of direct funding to ensure the execution of projects and R&D tasks related to the operations of F4E. Information on current calls for competition applications is available on the institution’s website.
Fusion for Energy provides assistance to companies and R&D institutions also on a local scale. To this end, a network of ILOs (Industrial Liaison Officers), i.e. national coordinators for the organisation’s cooperation with the industry, has been established. Their task is to promote benefits and rules of cooperation as part of the ITER project, and to support entrepreneurs in their participation in tender proceedings and cooperation with F4E. Sylwia Wójtowicz, the Director for Commercialisation and Development of the Wrocław Technology Park, is the ILO for Poland.