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Photo of Todd Allen and Mark Anderson
July 3, 2017

UW–Madison selected for $9.3 million in nuclear energy research funding

Written By: Krista Eastman

Engineers from the University of Wisconsin–Madison will receive an estimated $9.3 million in funding from the United States Department of Energy (DOE) for advanced nuclear energy research. The awards will drive new research on compact heat exchangers, nuclear fuel cycles, enabling technologies, and advanced reactor concepts.

Issued by the DOE’s Nuclear Energy University Program, UW–Madison’s portion of the projected funding is substantial, representing more than 17 percent of the funds awarded to universities through that program in 2017.

“Together, we’re driving things forward, and continuing UW–Madison’s legacy of conducting essential research on nuclear energy.”
—Todd Allen

The Nuclear Energy University Program, which seeks to maintain U.S. leadership in nuclear research through support of university-led research programs, has a long and robust record of funding research in UW–Madison’s College of Engineering.

“Over the history of this program, UW has garnered more funds than any other university,” says Todd Allen, a professor of engineering physics and 2017 award recipient. “This funding builds on that history.”

Of the eight UW–Madison awards selected for final negotiation with DOE, the largest consists of nearly $5 million for research led by Allen, UW–Madison research professor of engineering physics Mark Anderson, and technical director of industry relations Bruce Beihoff (Wisconsin Energy Institute). The three-year project will focus on advanced compact heat exchangers – devices that transfer heat from one matter to another – for use in nuclear systems.

Advanced compact heat exchangers provide more efficient heat transfer than traditional heat exchangers, and yet the very features that make them efficient also make them difficult to use in nuclear systems. Thinner walls and smaller channels mean they are harder to image and inspect, and their small tubes are potentially more susceptible to clogging. For heat exchanges involving nuclear material, ensuring the integrity of the exchanger is a critical safety issue.

The goal of Allen’s team is to optimize the manufacturing of compact heat to provide the safety assurances needed to commercialize them for use in advanced nuclear reactors. To do that, his team will collaborate with major players in the nuclear sector, including the non-profit Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and MPR Associates, a nuclear power consulting firm.

“We want to make sure that we get really practical information that helps move compact heat exchangers to commercialization,” says Allen. “We will be testing prototypes made by manufacturers, and a lot of the project’s guidance and philosophy will come directly from manufacturers.”

Assistant Professor of Engineering Physics Adrien Couet will oversee a project to develop extreme performance high entropy alloys for new metal alloy cladding for fast reactor applications, and which will produce an extensive irradiation resistance study of a new promising yet unexplored cladding concept. Couet’s graduate student, Calvin Parkin, is also the recent recipient of a research fellowship from the Nuclear Energy University Program. Photo by James Runde.

The remaining seven UW–Madison projects cover broad ground, from funding research on nuclear fuel cycles, enabling technologies, and reactor concepts, to infrastructure improvements. Those projects include:

  • $800,000 for a project on extreme performance high entropy alloys (Assistant Professor of Engineering Physics Adrien Couet);
  • $800,000 to study critical heat flux for innovative accident tolerant fuel cladding surfaces (Engineering Physics Professor Emeritus Mike Corradini);
  • $1,000,000 to develop a low temperature powder spray process for manufacturing fuel cladding and surface modification of reactor components (Distinguished Researcher Professor Kumar Sridharan);
  • $400,000 to develop an advanced supercritical Brayton power cycle directly coupled to a fission reactor (Professor of Mechanical Engineering Greg Nellis);
  • $800,000 to investigate radiation heat transport in molten salts and add functionality for radiative heat transport in a thermal-hydraulics system code (Assistant Professor of Engineering Physics Raluca Scarlat);
  • $300,000 in infrastructure funds for the Environmental Degradation of Nuclear Materials Laboratory (Professor and Department Chair of Engineering Physics Douglass Henderson); and
  • $60,000 for a reactor upgrade (Reactor Director Robert Agasie)

With many of the projects depending on collaborations among UW–Madison researchers, Allen says this latest round of funding demonstrates the value of the UW’s Institute for Nuclear Energy Systems (INES), which gathers UW faculty with diverse skill sets into teams to address important nuclear research issues.

“INES is helping our researchers to collaborate on some of the most important challenges facing the field today,” says Allen. “Together, we’re driving things forward, and continuing UW–Madison’s legacy of conducting essential research on nuclear energy.