The US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) revealed that it has licensed a novel method to 3D print nuclear reactor components. The Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation, or USNC will incorporate this method to boost their mission to develop and deploy nuclear-based, energy-generating equipment that is safe, commercially competitive and simple to use.
This novel method was developed by developed by the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
The technology uses a sophisticated additive manufacturing technique to print refractory materials, which are highly resistant to extreme heat and degradation, into components with complex shapes needed for advanced nuclear reactor designs.
Kurt Terrani, USNC executive vice president (formerly of ORNL) expressed, “This technology is ideal for manufacturing structure and core components for USNC’s advanced reactor designs.”
Terrani came to USNC from ORNL where he was technical director of the lab’s Transformational Challenge Reactor program, leveraging expertise at the lab’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility with leadership in nuclear technology to pilot the concept of 3D printing components for energy applications.
“It’s rewarding to see the transition from basic concept to a more mature technology that is actively being developed and deployed by our industry partners,” said Jeremy Busby, director of ORNL’s Nuclear Energy and Fuel Cycle division. “This is exactly the sort of impact that ORNL strives to make for our energy portfolio.”
3D Print Nuclear Reactor Components
USNC’s existing advanced nuclear systems are designed to deliver the highest levels of safety and reliability but the company wants to take a step further.
Terrani added, “We also utilize materials in our reactor cores that can withstand very harsh environments and high temperatures and don’t result in any degradation. We engineer multiple redundant barriers against any potential release of radiation through fundamental application of nuclear engineering and materials science.”
USNC’s refractory material of choice for nuclear reactor core components is silicon carbide, a high-temperature-resistant ceramic that has been tested and proven to be radiation tolerant. Yet, traditional machining of silicon carbide into parts for a reactor are so time-intensive and expensive that it’s nearly impossible.
The ORNL-developed alternative combines binder jet printing as the additive manufacturing technique and a ceramic production process called chemical vapor infiltration, which will allow USNC to make components more efficiently with desired complex shapes, such as fluid channels in a heat exchanger.
“We look forward to continuing our strong relationship with ORNL,” said Francesco Venneri, chief executive officer of USNC. “Proximity to the lab and its world-class scientists and facilities allow us easy access to expertise in reactor core technologies and additive manufacturing, as well as the latest in radiation, fuels and materials research, all of which benefit USNC’s commitment to bring safe, reliable and secure nuclear energy to world markets.” USNC and ORNL also signed a Memorandum of Understanding in September on advanced nuclear fuel and reactor development activities.
Along with Terrani, other inventors of this technology include ORNL’s Brian Jolly and Michael Trammel. Enabled through ORNL’s entrepreneurial leave program, Jolly and Trammell joined USNC as group leaders for Chemical Vapour Processing and Additive Manufacturing, respectively, to participate in full commercialisation of their intellectual property.
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