$5.1 million to advance nuclear power awarded to UM

Students work at the Michigan Ion Beam Laboratory (MIBL) on the University of Michigan North Campus in Ann Arbor, MI on May 10, 2017. Image Credit: Joseph Xu

UM’s Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences has received $5.1 million in funding for three projects to advance nuclear technology.

The department is also collaborating on three other of the 74 projects the US Department of Energy is supporting with a total of $61 million.

Smaller and more robust heat exchangers

The biggest UM-led project — funded with $4 million from the Integrated Research Projects program — focuses on compact heat exchangers, which would transfer heat from a nuclear reactor to systems that use the heat directly or convert it in electricity. They are much smaller and therefore cheaper than traditional models.

Diffusion bonding, the process used to create compact heat exchangers, involves stacking grooved plates and pressing them together, causing the grooves to form channels. This new manufacturing technique creates a large number of small channels, which maximize the contact between the metal and the heated fluid, allowing more heat to pass than in conventional heat exchangers.

Students work at the Michigan Ion Beam Laboratory (MIBL) on the University of Michigan North Campus in Ann Arbor, MI on May 10, 2017. Image Credit: Joseph Xu
Students work at the Michigan Ion Beam Laboratory (MIBL) on the University of Michigan North Campus in Ann Arbor, MI on May 10, 2017. Image Credit: Joseph Xu

However, high temperatures weaken the bonds between the plates, limiting the heat exchangers to a lower temperature and undoing the gains made by making them small. The objective of this project is to improve the knowledge of the bonding process to allow strong bonds at high temperature.

“By bringing together top experts from across the country, research for this project will improve our ability to manufacture cost-effective and efficient heat exchangers that will reduce the overall costs associated with nuclear energy,” said Todd Allen, Principal Investigator. of the study. project and the Glenn F. and Gladys H. Knoll Chair in the Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences.

Another UM contributor is Fei Gao, professor of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences. The project includes collaborators from the University of Wisconsin, Idaho National Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory, Electric Power Research Institute, and engineering firm MPR.

Better modeling of reactor physics

Funded to the tune of $600,000 by the University Nuclear Energy Partnerships Program, Brendan Kochunas, an assistant professor of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences at UM, will lead an effort to accelerate neutron physics modeling for software tools developed under the advanced nuclear energy modeling and simulation program. .

Determining the distribution of neutrons in a reactor is essential to understanding energy production, including how to increase it and how to stop it.

Kochunas and his team will focus on developing new simulation methods that can be applied to advanced nuclear technologies based on SPn theory. The revival of interest in the nearly 60-year-old SPn method comes in part from recent theoretical advances that improve the accuracy of the method.

“It is humbling and I am grateful for this opportunity to lead an outstanding team of researchers in developing the next generation of SPn methods,” Kochunas said.

If successful, the new methods could significantly reduce advanced reactor design cycle times and lead to safer designs. Other UM contributors are Brian Kiedrowski, associate professor of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences, and Krishna Garikipati, professor of mechanical engineering and mathematics. The project includes collaborators from Argonne National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Naval Nuclear Laboratory.

Understand how reactor components degrade

Funded with $500,000 from the University Nuclear Energy Partnerships Program, Professor Emeritus Gary Was and Associate Professor Kevin Field, both in nuclear engineering and radiological sciences, conducted a study on the evolution of damage caused by creep radiation, which can shorten the life of a nuclear power plant by potentially affecting all components of a nuclear reactor core.

Coupled with heat and neutron radiation in the reactor core, the mechanical stress causes metal components to slowly deform through a process called creep. Due to these contributing factors, creep is extremely difficult to assess and traditional tests cannot assess them independently. This project will use ion beam experiments to develop an understanding of how each individual factor affects creep, which will provide guidelines for the development of creep resistant alloys.

“Thermal and irradiation creep are deformation mechanisms that can limit the long-term sustained operation of a nuclear power plant,” Was said. “However, traditional irradiation creep tests using neutron beams involve high costs and long lead times.”

The advantage of ion beams is that they can produce radiation damage much faster, and with additional computer modeling and simulation they allow industry to predict when and how creep damage will progress. While data exists to make these radiation creep predictions for current reactors, this project will produce both data and an understanding of radiation creep applicable to advanced reactor applications, for which data is largely lacking.

Other UM contributors to this work are Fei Gao, professor of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences, and Priyam Patki, former UM postdoctoral researcher and current process engineer at Intel Corp.

Price announcements:

About Perry Perrie

Check Also

Michigan Tech University Alum donates boat for research

Boaters on the Keweenaw Waterway and those passing by the north side of campus may …