Aperam and Werkhuizen Hengelhoef build a machine to produce underground tubes for the Einstein telescope
POM Limburg project results in revolutionary production technology
With the encouragement of POM Limburg, two Genk-based companies, Aperam and Werkhuizen Hengelhoef, are jointly developing a machine to produce underground vacuum tubes for the Einstein telescope. With their new, groundbreaking production technology, the companies are helping to build the largest vacuum system on earth.
The Einstein Telescope is a state-of-the-art research centre looking into the origins of the universe, black holes and stars. The triangular telescope, whose sides are 10 kilometres long, will be built some 300 metres underground. In 2025, Europe will decide which of the two candidate regions, the Italian island of Sardinia or the Meuse-Rhine region, can build the observatory. The arrival of the telescope would bring €2 billion in investments and 1,500 jobs to the region where the three countries meet.
Largest vacuum system on earth
The Einstein Telescope is used for research into gravitational waves. These are caused by miniscule deformations of the earth. To detect the waves, lasers are fired at mirrors in the observatory’s mile-long tunnels. Owing to the substantial vibration sensitivity, these lasers need to be fired through vacuum tubes. In its entirety, it is the largest vacuum system on earth.
A Herculean task
Two Genk-based companies, Aperam and Werkhuizen Hengelhoef, have joined a consortium with German welding company FEF and the University of Aachen to further develop this vacuum system. Specifically, the companies are building a machine together to produce large sections of vacuum tubes underground. This would significantly lighten the Herculean task, and bring the costs of the vacuum system down sharply.
CEO of Aperam Stainless Steel Europe Bernard Hallemans: “We are very proud to participate in this fascinating project. Together with our local partners, we will deploy industrial and research resources to support this initiative. We are also convinced that the applied solutions will subsequently find their way into other, more ‘traditional’ applications.”
Werkhuizen Hengelhoef joined the consortium, but also won another tender.
Business developer Jef Hoste: “For us, it’s more than just the Einstein Telescope project. We also want to be a pioneer for other regional companies. Projects like this are only possible thanks to collaboration. And not only via the cream of Limburg’s businesses, but also across national borders. There is more potential in our region than we realise, and projects like this are ideal for pooling our knowledge. That’s the only way we can bring the prestigious Einstein telescope to our region.”
Links with businesses
POM Limburg has focused on the link between the telescope and SMEs for some time. For example, POM advises businesses and specifically encourages them to participate in tenders.
Tom Vandeput, Deputy for the Economy and Chairman of POM Limburg: “And that has worked. After Jansen the Building Company and Smet Group, now there are two more Limburg-based companies seizing an opportunity. Not only does this bolster our candidacy, it also gives a general boost to Limburg as a high-tech knowledge region. The revolutionary technologies they are developing can be used for other applications in the future.”
The province of Limburg has put all its energies behind the Einstein telescope candidacy. Just recently, Limburg Governor Jos Lantmeeters called for more substantial investment from Belgium, after it was revealed that the Dutch government has set aside almost €900 million for the project.
“We have observed that interest in the Einstein telescope is steadily growing among Limburg-based firms and I’m delighted about that,” explains Governor Lantmeeters. “Not only does it strengthen our candidacy, the application of this new production technique is also a great example of the innovative and pioneering effect that the Einstein telescope brings with it. I am sure that the positive signals from the business community will help demonstrate to the federal and regional governments the enormous potential of this project. We definitely cannot miss this “train”.”