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R&D Concepts for the Nuclear Industry Attract Grant Funding

Mon, 24 July, 2023

A number of forward thinking, innovative SMEs, together with TWI and the University of Leicester (TWI’s partner in the Materials Innovation Centre: MatIC), are now embarking on novel nuclear projects as a result of grant (also known as ‘public’) funding won in 2022. The three projects, each of which has a dedicated consortium responsible for its delivery, in line with the programme agreed with the respective funding body, are CSAMODS, CoreFlow and LowCostEB.

TWI’s Technology Innovation Management (TIM) team supported each of the three projects at different stages of the grant funding submissions process, including building project consortia, guiding technology concepts through development to written proposal format, contributing to project finances and final submission of the bid document to the awarding body’s funding competition. The TIM team has been supporting SMEs in the UK and Europe to unlock their research and development (R&D) potential, and join appropriate consortia, since 2008. As a result, project partners can draw on a wealth of tried and tested knowledge and experience in how to optimise applications for competitive grant (public) funding.

The CSAMODS: Cold Spray Additive of Oxide Dispersion Strengthened (ODS) Alloys project, aims to develop cold-spray additive-manufacturing (CSAM) for the freeform manufacture of large-scale, in-vessel components (IVCs) for fusion reactors, using oxide-dispersion-strengthened (ODS) steels. IVCs, such as the divertor, first-wall and breeder blanket, must be able tolerate harsh conditions, including high temperature and neutron irradiation exposure, as well as meet the stringent conditions for maintaining mechanical integrity and dimensional accuracy, and the requirement for low activation, to avoid the generation of long-lived, radioactive waste.

ODS steels are attractive for the production of large IVCs because they use nanoscale oxide particles. These impede dislocation movement, providing enhanced properties such as high tensile strength and creep resistance at high temperature, and reduced radiation swelling. However, conventional fabrication processes destroy the ODS microstructure. As a result, the only way to currently make large, complex-shaped, ODS steel components is through powder consolidation methods, but these also have major limitations. The use of CSAM in CSAMODS will solve this problem, preserving the microstructure of ODS alloys, and producing dense, Near-Net-Shape components directly from powder, with a high deposition rate and low wastage.

CSAMODs represents a first for the nuclear industry and addresses the major, acknowledged need to develop future fusion power on a commercial scale. The project will demonstrate technical and commercial feasibility for fusion through the manufacture of small-scale test samples in phase 1, with the aim of scaling-up to representative sized component manufacture and testing in a potential phase 2.

The project partners are TWI: Surface, Corrosion and Interface Engineering section, and the University of Leicester. CSAMODS secured funding through SBRI: Fusion Industry Challenges – phase 1, a Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) competition funded by the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA)’s Fusion Industry Programme.

SBRI: Fusion Industry Challenges – phase 1, aims to develop innovative heating and cooling systems that address fusion energy challenges in driving up fusion power plant performance, and novel fusion materials, technology and manufacturing techniques that can improve fusion power plant availability. Find out more about UKAEA’s Fusion Industry Programme.

The CoreFlow project is targeted at simplifying fusion powerplant thermal management; a longstanding issue in the advancement of practical fusion plants, and addressing the ongoing need to develop commercial fusion power, both of which require the creation of new, advanced manufacturing (AM) processes.

Specifically, many of the UKAEA's components have embedded cooling channels that allow them to withstand the extreme thermal loads that could ultimately compromise the structural integrity of the fusion machine. The manufacture of cooled components involves complex sequences of machining and joining processes. An example of this is the first-wall in plasma-facing components (PFC) of the reactor, comprising an inner liner of beryllium or tungsten tiles, followed by an intermediate panel made from a copper-based alloy and a steel outer panel. The UKAEA is particularly interested in the possibility of incorporating cooling channels, made either from a Cu-Cr-Zr alloy or pure copper, in the intermediate panel of the fusion machine.

TWI’s recently invented, new sub-surface machining technique, CoreFlow™, is a solid-state process that allows sub-surface networks of channels to be machined within monolithic metallic parts in a single manufacturing step. It was developed as an alternative, efficient manufacturing process for thermal management systems, and has huge potential to significantly simplify the manufacturing of compact, customised cooling plates, replacing multiple manufacturing steps with a single process. Using CoreFlow™ to produce the embedded cooling channels in a single step will, therefore, enable leaner, simpler manufacturing practices and offer smarter design possibilities to improve thermal efficiency.

TWI (Friction and Forge Processes section) is responsible for this project. CoreFlow also secured funding through the Fusion Industry Programme.

The objective of LowCostEB: Reducing the Cost of Electron Beam Welding (EBW) for Improved Productivity of Heavy Manufacturing Sectors, is to enhance the manufacture of large, metallic structures through the application of a 'local-chamber' system, removing the need for a vacuum chamber and dedicated shielding. The initial target market for LowCostEB is intermediate level waste (ILW) containers for the nuclear waste and decommissioning domestic market. Therefore, the project will investigate different materials to ascertain how suitable they are for use in the fabrications of ILW container components, and develop accompanying novel welding solutions for these, as appropriate.

EBW is a well-established, high integrity, high speed welding process, however, it has to be undertaken within a vacuum environment, usually in a large chamber, making it an expensive technology. The LowCostEB project will provide a solution to this by exploring and technically de-risking the ‘EBFlow’ approach, developed by Cambridge Vacuum Engineering (CVE), that creates a local-vacuum process head. This will shorten welding times, leading to reduced costs. LowCostEB will also improve material utilisation, maximise manufacturing efficiency, and establish fabrication methods that deliver economic and production benefits.

The project partners are Aquasium Technology Limited (parent of CVE) as Lead Partner, Stainless Metalcraft (Chatteris) Limited and TWI (Electron Beam section). LowCostEB secured funding through an Innovate UK Smart Grant.

Tat-Hean Gan, Director of Membership, Innovation and Global Operations at TWI explains “Market positioning, and staying industrially relevant, are critical ‘musts’ for engineering and technologies based SMEs and RTOs in today’s dynamic and global markets. However, finding available budget for R&D is often a challenge, and this can impede innovation, and the ability to bring new products, systems and processes to market.” “This is where public funding can help because it provides a new income stream to deliver a specific project, with a robust concept and delivery plan, and the opportunity to learn from like-minded consortium partners with complementary backgrounds” he added.

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