Purdue University’s College of Engineering has received a grant worth $800,000 from the Department of Energy to accelerate the development of a 3D printed microreactor. The funding, provided through the Nuclear Energy University Program, will allow Purdue to become a key player in the Transformational Challenge Reactor (TCR) Demonstration Program spearheaded by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).
The TCR program aims to build the first 3D printed microreactor by the year 2023, which will incidentally be the first “advanced reactor” to operate in the U.S. in more than 40 years. As part of its role in the program, Purdue Engineering will create and ultimately demonstrate an AI-driven technique for ensuring the quality of the microreactor’s 3D printed components.
3D printing has significant potential for the production of more flexible and versatile nuclear reactors, including the reduction of manufacturing costs and development time. Purdue’s work will facilitate the use of additive manufacturing for the production of nuclear reactor parts as well as computational materials modeling and AI concepts. These three technologies combined could significantly transform nuclear reactor development and production for the better, enabling more accurate safety risk estimates and improving access to nuclear power on the whole.
“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,” explained Hany Abdel-Khalik, technical lead for the project and associate professor of nuclear engineering. “Purdue will fill a technological gap in the nuclear industry, reflecting a broader trend of applying AI strategies to support additive manufacturing. 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.”
Researchers from Purdue Engineering will leverage their knowledge of manufacturing, materials engineering, nuclear engineering, environmental engineering, artificial intelligence and data analytics, simulation, systems engineering and more to establish a high quality and cost-efficient qualification process for 3D printed microreactor components. Xinghang Zhang, a professor of materials engineering with a background in AM and manufacturing, will act as co-principal investigator on the project. Zhang added that the project will rely on reinforcement learning, an AI-based approach that uses advanced machine learning strategies to select the optimal AM process parameters to train the AI models and inform decision making.
“Synchronized application of additive manufacturing and artificial intelligence techniques are key to providing the most data-rich and cost-effective nuclear component qualification process,” said Kurt Terrani, Director of the TCR program at ORNL. “This is one of the key goals of DOE-NE’s TCR program: using modern technology to deliver a new and better way to deploy nuclear energy. The program is engaging the industry, the regulator and, in this case, universities in order to ensure an optimal approach is developed and adopted in widespread fashion. The technical strength of the Purdue team will shore up our ability to deliver on these goals.”