The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded Purdue University an $800,000 grant to develop a new type of nuclear reactor. The university says it will use the funding to help create a 3D-printed microreactor, a project that aims to use modern technology to deliver a better way to deploy nuclear energy.
The Transformational Challenge Reactor Demonstration Program is being spearheaded by the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, and Purdue says researchers are working to build the first 3D-printed microreactor by 2023.
“Purdue will fill a technological gap in the nuclear industry, reflecting a broader trend of applying AI strategies to support additive manufacturing,” said Hany Abdel-Khalik, project lead and associate professor of nuclear engineering at Purdue. “AM enables designs to be adjusted during manufacturing, greatly decreasing production cost and time. Our work is aimed at driving widespread adoption of additively manufactured reactor components by using an AI-powered software system to ensure safety and reliability.”
Purdue’s College of Engineering will use the Nuclear Energy University Program funding to apply reinforcement learning, a kind of Artificial Intelligence that the university says uses advanced machine learning strategies to fine-tune the selection of the best additive manufacturing processes.
Purdue says its technology will help refine printing speeds and melting temperatures, among others, to train the AI models and help with decision making. The university is planning to develop and demonstrate a new artificial intelligence method to ensure the quality of the microreactor’s components.
“Microreactors introduce a transformational trend to the nuclear industry – a trend that enables more streamlined construction and deployment processes to address the nation’s energy challenges that cannot be overcome solely with large-scale nuclear reactors,” said Abdel-Khalik.
Ultimately, Purdue says the project is intended to drive the use of additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, to reduce manufacturing costs and development time, and to estimate safety risks.
The microreactor will be the first advanced reactor to operate in the U.S. in more than 40 years.