DOE expands support for innovation projects

21 December 2018

The US Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) has announced six new collaborations with industry on projects to advance commercial nuclear energy technologies. Meanwhile, the DOE has announced separate funding solicitations for USD14 million for research into fusion energy and USD18 million for transformative energy technologies.

Inside the torus at the DIII-D tokamak (Image: General Atomics)

DOE support for industry-led projects provides companies with access to ORNL's nuclear experts and facilities, and are worth about USD9.5 million, or USD12 million when additional cost-sharing from industry is included. Two of the ORNL projects are supported through the DOE Office of Nuclear Energy's US Industry Opportunities for Advanced Nuclear Technology Development programme, and four through the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear programme.

They include:

  • A collaboration between Exelon Generation and ORNL to pursue improved modelling and simulation techniques for boiling water reactors (BWRs), which could enhance current reactor operations and advanced reactor development. This project, which will also be supported by the Idaho National Laboratory and multiple universities, will leverage the ORNL-based Consortium for Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors and will expand current modelling tools that mainly simulate pressurised water reactors for us in simulating BWRs;
  • A project with Analysis and Measurement Services Corporation and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory on developing criteria testing for age-related deterioration of nuclear power plant cables and cable insulation;
  • A partnership with Exelon Corporation to perform a feasibility study for the enrichment of gadolinium-157 using the plasma separation process. Using enriched gadolinium in current reactor fuel designs could potentially reduce fuel costs, and the project will help to determine if the process can be economically feasible.

The final three projects involving ORNL are: one with Eastman and INL to look at the design and analysis of an integrated nuclear hybrid energy system; another with NexDefense Inc to analyse cybersecurity software for nuclear reactors; and one with Westinghouse Electric Company to develop and evaluate alumina-forming austenitic stainless steels for lead-cooled fast reactor applications.

Fusion funds

The DOE's Office of Science yesterday announced USD14 million of funding over three years for new research on fusion energy based on data from the DIII-D National Fusion Facility, a DOE tokamak operated by General Atomics in San Diego.

Universities, non-profits and private sector companies are eligible to submit applications for the funding, which is to be awarded competitively on the basis of peer review. The funding is expected to be in the form of three-year grants of USD50,000 to USD1.5 million per year, beginning in the current fiscal year.

"DIII-D is one of the world's leading tokamak or donut-shaped fusion facilities and offers excellent stead-state performance and advanced diagnostics for understanding the behaviour of fusion plasmas," DOE Acting Associate Director of Science for Fusion Energy Sciences James Van Dam said. "Data accumulated through operations of DIII-D offer a rich vein to mine for new insights into fusion."

General Atomics earlier this year launched a year-long series of enhancements at DIII-D to enable the facility, which is the largest magnetic fusion experiment in the USA, to commence new studies of the physics of future fusion reactors. Enhancements include adding increased and redirected particle beams and radio frequency systems to drive current and sustain the plasma in a so-called steady state.

Research on DIII-D data will play an important role both in advancing the fundamental knowledge of fusion and in aiding the development of ITER, the major international fusion experiment currently under construction in France, the DOE Office of Science said.

Transformative technologies

The DOE's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) programme has also announced its latest funding opportunity designed to support early stage, transformative energy technologies.

The funding opportunity will remain open for an extended period, and new topics will be released periodically to target emerging technologies and potential new programme areas, the DOE said. The first round calls for innovative technologies supporting next generation nuclear energy, as well as technologies for geothermal exploration, and ultra-durable, lower-energy concrete for infrastructure. ARPA-E will award up to USD18 million to project teams spread across standard and small business solicitations.

"By design, ARPA-E is an agency that adapts quickly to the changing energy landscape, and this new programme will allow us to better capitalise on emerging energy trends," US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry said. "This programme will enable the Department to target technologies at the project level, driving innovation and creating new opportunities," he added.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News