MoltexFLEX wins grant for graphite research

01 February 2023

Moltex Energy Limited subsidiary MoltexFLEX has received a research grant to work with researchers at the University of Manchester to investigate how its FLEX reactor's molten coolant salt interacts with graphite, enabling detailed characterisation work to be undertaken.

A cutaway of the FLEX reactor (Image: MoltexFLEX)

The grant from the Henry Royce Institute of Advanced Materials (Royce) will be used for cutting-edge characterisation that will help qualify industrial-grade graphite for applications in advanced molten salt nuclear technologies. The award is part of the Industrial Collaboration Programme (ICP), a Royce initiative that seeks to boost research, development and innovation activities across the UK.

Graphite is a vital component used to control the fission process in the FLEX reactor and many other nuclear reactors. MoltexFLEX is investigating the possibility of using standard industrial-grade graphite as part of the company's ethos of using already available, 'off-the-shelf' components and solutions.

The research will see MoltexFLEX scientists working alongside those of the University of Manchester's Nuclear Graphite Research Group (NGRG), who have been working in partnership on graphite-related topics since 2020. It will employ state-of-the-art facilities in the university's irradiated materials laboratory, making use of x-ray computed tomography and hard x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy to examine the graphite and its response to molten salt exposure in minute detail.

Warrington-headquartered MoltexFLEX said the research will have far-reaching implications. "Using industrial-grade synthetic graphite that has high thermal and chemical resistance will deliver significant cost savings for the FLEX reactor, as well as enabling it to be rolled out across the globe even more quickly," it said.

"We believe that collaboration truly enables the path to technology maturity, and so working with Royce and the University of Manchester on this joint project to determine the effects of molten salts on the physical and mechanical properties of graphite, will not only drive the development of the FLEX reactor design forward, but forge a strong academic-industrial partnership in the process," said Chris Morgans, project manager for MoltexFLEX.

MoltexFLEX is developing the FLEX reactor – the thermal neutron (moderated) version of Moltex Energy's stable salt reactor technology. The reactor is small and modular, allowing components to be factory-produced and readily transportable, reducing on-site work, increasing speed of construction, and minimising overall costs. It is passively safe, so does not require engineered, redundant, active safety systems. The FLEX reactor has no moving parts and is fuelled for 20 years at a time, meaning that there is very little operator input and very low ongoing costs. Each reactor delivers 40 MW of thermal energy at 700°C. MoltexFLEX plans to have its first reactor operational by 2029.

"Graphite is a significant component of the reactor cost," said MoltexFLEX CEO David Landon. "The success of this research in demonstrating the viability of industrial-grade graphite will contribute to MoltexFLEX's mission to deliver affordable nuclear power for all."

Operating with its hub at the University of Manchester, Royce is a partnership of nine institutions - the universities of Cambridge, Imperial College London, Liverpool, Leeds, Oxford, Sheffield, the National Nuclear Laboratory, and UKAEA. Royce's associate partners are the universities of Cranfield and Strathclyde.

Funded by the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council, part of UK Research & Innovation, Royce coordinates more than GBP300 million (USD370 million) of facilities, providing a joined-up framework that can deliver beyond the current capabilities of individual partners or research teams.

The award to MoltexFLEX is part of the Industrial Collaboration Programme, a GBP5.6 million Royce initiative for collaborative, business-led research, development and innovation projects aimed at accelerating progress towards a sustainable future.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News