AMRC Developing 3D Woven Composite for Nuclear Reactor

The 3D Woven composite component is being developed at the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in collaboration with the UK’s Atomic Energy Authority as part of their effort to accelerate zero-carbon fusion energy.

The authority is involved in developing the next generation of magnetic confinement reactor called a tokamak at their site in Culham, Oxfordshire. Research is focussed on preparing for the international tokamak experiment at the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) in Saint-Paul-lès-Durance in southern France and for the following machine that will demonstrate the generation of power from fusion.

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.

The breeder blanket must capture the energy of the neutrons to generate power, but also prevent the neutrons escaping and ‘breed’ more tritium through reactions with lithium contained in the blanket. Each blanket module typically measures ~1 x 1.5m and currently weighs up to 4.6 tonnes.

Engineers are proposing 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.

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 CAD model produced, a weave design was then created for the composite. The structure needed holes robust enough to include tubes and needed to maintain the preform shape without distortion. They then produced a 3D woven structure on the loom with pockets for the 3D-printed tubes which could be formed into a rigid component.

The next step for the AMRC project is to continue the silicon carbide composite development and build a demonstrator that can be tested inside a reactor test facility in order to understand how it performs and reacts to the environment