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ORNL researchers 3D print defect-free tungsten components

Using internally developed EB-PBF technology for applications that can withstand extreme temperatures

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ORNL researchers used electron-beam-based powder bed fusion (EB-PBF) additive manufacturing technology to 3D print the first complex, defect-free tungsten parts with complex geometries. Research was performed at DOE’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF) at ORNL.

The MDF, supported by DOE’s Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Technologies Office, is a nationwide consortium of collaborators working to innovate, inspire and catalyze the transformation of U.S. manufacturing.

ORNL researchers 3D print defect-free tungsten components, using internally developed EB-PBF technology for high temperature applications
Dr. Michael Kirka is a Senior Research Staff and the Group Leader of the Deposition Science and Technology Group at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Michael’s current research focuses on evaluating the suitability and limitations of high-temperature materials for use in extreme environments for processing via additive manufacturing routes.

The Oak Ridge National Laboratory defect-free complex tungsten parts can be used in extreme environments and this could have positive implications for clean-energy technologies such as fusion energy.

Tungsten has the highest melting point of any metal, making it ideal for fusion reactors where plasma temperatures exceed 180 million degrees Fahrenheit. In comparison, the sun’s center is about 27 million degrees Fahrenheit.

In its pure form, tungsten is brittle at room temperature and easily shatters. To counter this, ORNL researchers developed an electron-beam 3D printer to deposit tungsten, layer by layer, into precise three-dimensional shapes.

This technology uses a magnetically directed stream of particles in a high-vacuum enclosure to melt and bind metal powder into a solid-metal object. The vacuum environment reduces foreign material contamination and residual stress formation.

“Electron-beam additive manufacturing is promising for the processing of complex tungsten geometries,” said ORNL’s Michael Kirka. “This is an important step for expanding the use of temperature-resistant metals in energy resources that will support a sustainable, carbon-free future.”

The work was conducted within the Energy Science and Technology Directorate (ESTD), where ORNL’s Manufacturing research is based. The ESTD plays a pivotal role in America’s transformation to a clean, efficient, flexible, and secure energy future. Thew researchers deliver breakthroughs in energy from generation to distribution and storage to end use in support of Department of Energy missions. ESTD also offers a unique culture of entrepreneurship for translating science into solutions for the most critical problems facing society at the nexus of energy and security. Many of these projects involve additive manufacturing.

ORNL researchers 3D print defect-free tungsten components, using internally developed EB-PBF technology for high temperature applications
A shot of the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at ORNL’s ESTD

The ESTD scientists and engineers work with many of America’s best innovators and businesses to research, develop, and deploy cutting-edge technologies and to break down market barriers in sustainable transportation, smart power systems, and energy efficiency for homes, buildings, and manufacturing. Accelerating clean energy technologies to deployment will help provide affordable and reliable energy to support a thriving economy.

The Nuclear Science and Engineering Directorate (NSED), which addresses compelling challenges in nuclear science and technology, also contributed expertise. NSED works to extend the life of the current US nuclear reactor fleet. It also investigates advanced reactor systems for the future and, including making fusion energy a viable power source, and generally enabling the peaceful use of nuclear technologies through non-proliferation programs.

As early as 2020, Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory presented a design of a 3D printed nuclear reactor core, scaling up the additive manufacturing process necessary to build it, and developing methods to confirm the consistency and reliability of its printed components.


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Davide Sher

Since 2002, Davide has built up extensive experience as a technology journalist, market analyst and consultant for the additive manufacturing industry. Born in Milan, Italy, he spent 12 years in the United States, where he completed his studies at SUNY USB. As a journalist covering the tech and videogame industry for over 10 years, he began covering the AM industry in 2013, first as an international journalist and subsequently as a market analyst, focusing on the additive manufacturing industry and relative vertical markets. In 2016 he co-founded London-based VoxelMatters. Today the company publishes the leading news and insights websites and, as well as VoxelMatters Directory, the largest global directory of companies in the additive manufacturing industry.

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