If you are looking to make an impact in the energy industry, an important first step is to stay in the know. Industry trends are an important way to communicate your knowledge and skills to help grow your career.

One trend that is having important ramifications in the world of nuclear power is additive manufacturing. Researchers at the Idaho National Laboratory are being recognized for some very exciting and important work developing a new additive manufacturing method with the power of massive 3D printing capabilities. This new method is notable because of the ability to make more efficient and more advanced nuclear fuels.

Additive manufacturing processes are important to the industry because they typically waste less material than conventional fabrication methods, and result in faster production times as well. But there are still important strides to be made. To help make new nuclear plants with emission-free baseload energy more optimized and attractive to developers and lawmakers, Dr. Isabelle Van Rooyen and Dr. Clemente Parga with the Idaho National Laboratory have teamed up with Ed Lahoda of Westinghouse in a DOE-accelerated technology commercialization project uniquely designed to flesh out this new additive manufacturing process and produce fuel out of uranium silicide (U3Si2) to use in advanced reactors. This innovative nuclear fuel production process is called Additive Manufacturing as an Alternative Fabrication Technique, or AMAFT.

This new technique uses a novel hybrid additive manufacturing process, meaning they are able to combine some traditional and some new processes to increase efficiency, reduce the steps, and lower time and cost spent in producing fuel for nuclear power reactors.

Traditional fuel manufacturing methods can be lengthy, taking multiple steps to convert raw uranium ore into UF6 then to uranium dioxide (U02), which is then used in a light-water reactor’s final fuel. The AMAFT process uses hybrid laser engineering shaping techniques to make a small, localized melt pool out of multiple sources. That allows a pellet of dense U3Si2 fuel to form, decreasing the total steps required by removing the pre-processing of UF6 necessary to convert it to UO2.

U3Si2 is considered by many to have the potential to become a more advanced fuel type, with greater safety benefits than the traditional fuels most nuclear power plants currently use. This is due to its greater thermal conductivity and density. These qualities help improve economics and improve safety in the same effort. It’s a definite win-win for the nuclear industry.

This new process is still in the research phases of development, but with time and effort, it is moving closer and closer to market. Researchers are working on additional experiments with a pulsed laser and surrogate material to test the waters for even more improvements. Overall, these exciting advances partner industry mentors with DOE researchers to further refine concepts and support the specific needs of possible customers.

It’s an exciting time to be in the nuclear industry, with new technologies and advances changing the energy market frequently and in very impactful ways. Keep an eye to the future; maybe it will be you making a difference soon!

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