Tuesday, February 25, 2020

News: AMRC weaving a way to fusion energy


A 3D woven composite component, capable of withstanding extreme temperatures inside a fusion nuclear reactor, is being developed at the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC).

The project is in collaboration with the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) as part of the effort to accelerate the delivery of limitless zero-carbon fusion energy and is a precursor to the authority's move into a new £22m research facility alongside AMRC facilities on the Advanced Manufacturing Park (AMP) in Rotherham.

The AMRC is a world leading model partnership between industry and academia that focuses on advanced machining and materials research for aerospace and other high-value manufacturing sectors. Its Design and Prototyping Group (DPG), develops everything from conceptual designs, to fully functional prototypes for a range of industries.

The UKAEA is a UK government research organisation responsible for the development of nuclear fusion power with the mission to lead the commercial development of fusion power and related technology and position the UK as a leader in sustainable nuclear energy.

Exploring how composite materials could produce components that are stiffer, lighter and easier to manufacture that those currently in use, but which retain the necessary capabilities is important to the UKAEA's work in developing the next generation of magnetic confinement reactor called a tokamak.

In a reactor, fusion occurs when two types of hydrogen atoms, tritium and deuterium, collide at enormously high speeds to create helium and release a high energy neutron. Once released, the neutron interacts with a much cooler breeder blanket to absorb the energy. This must capture the energy of the neutrons to generate power, but also prevent the neutrons escaping.


Steffan Lea, research fellow at the AMRC Composite Centre (pictured), said: "Currently, their steel modules are limited to approximately 500˚C so UKAEA asked us if there was anything we could do to get it up to 600˚C. We set out to see what materials we could use, that would enable higher temperature operation."

Engineers at the AMRC proposed to make use of high performance ceramic composite materials and to form a unitised 3D woven structure with additive manufacture components. The cooling tubes in the breeder blanket would be integrated into the material and 3D printed parts used to define features such as connectors and manifolds.

Senior Project Manager at the AMRC’s Design and Prototyping Group, Joe Palmer, was involved in the design of the component demonstrator, and said: "We wanted to maximise the available surface area for heat transfer while being as lightweight as possible, but ensure it occupied a similar volume to the existing breeder blanket designs.

"To achieve a lightweight, temperature resistant structure, a silicon carbide composite material was chosen for the breeder blanket, with the internal flow channels being created by forming the composite around a disposable core."
With a computer-aided design (CAD) model produced, Chris McHugh, Dry Fibre Development Manager at the AMRC Composite Centre, then created a weave design for the composite. Chris explained: "The design I created had multiple weave zones and had multiple layer weaves. The structure needed holes robust enough to include tubes and needed to maintain the preform shape without distortion.

"What we were able to produce on the loom was a 3D woven structure with pockets for the 3D-printed tubes which could be formed into a ridged component."

The initial concept was successfully demonstrated and work is set to continue on silicon carbide composite development so that a demonstrator can be tested inside a reactor test facility.

AMRC website
UKAEA website

Images: ITER / AMRC


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