Airfloat Plays Role in Multinational Fusion Energy Project

A cut-away view of the ITER Tokamak fusion reactor, revealing the doughnut-shaped plasma inside the vacuum vessel.

A cut-away view of the ITER Tokamak fusion reactor, revealing the doughnut-shaped plasma inside the vacuum vessel.

Airfloat will play a small but important role in an historic international nuclear fusion research and engineering project. At a cost of 15 billion euros (approximately 20 billion dollars), the ITER (short for International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) is currently under construction in Southern France. When the reactor goes online in 2020, it will use 50 megawatts (MW) of input power to produce 500 MW of fusion power, making it the first of all fusion experiments to produce net energy. As a comparison, a typical 500 MW-rated coal generator can power 230,000 to 450,000 homes, depending on its location.

The ITER project is being funded and built by seven member entities – the USA, the former Soviet Union, Japan, China, S. Korea, India and the European Union – each responsible for building different reactor components. The U.S. has been tasked with fabricating the central solenoid coil that is considered the backbone of the fusion reactor’s superconducting magnet system.

That’s where Airfloat and parent company Align Production Systems enter the picture. The Decatur, Illinois-based material-handling company was tapped to create a special air-bearing platform to move and manipulate six enormous magnets that are stacked to form the central solenoid. Each magnet weighs approximately 200 tons and is comprised of 3.5 miles of superconducting cable.


Once inserted in the fusion reactor, the magnet system will generate a field used to contain and control the electrically charged plasma that produces the fusion energy. The plasma will burn at 150,000,000°C – that’s 10 times hotter than the center of the sun. (Watch video above for more information.)

The Airfloat platform (or Coil Transport Tool) uses air-bearing technology to float heavy loads on a thin film of compressed air. The large U-shaped machine can transport up to 400,000 lbs. of load weight in any horizontal direction and raise and lower it by means of built-in lifting jacks. A computer-controlled leveling system will keep the magnet level within .01 inch to avoid putting undo stress on it.

It has taken nine months to design and build the Airfloat CTT. Upon completion in mid-December, it will be shipped to a factory in Southern California, where the manufacture of the superconducting magnets will occur.

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