General Atomics advances fusion technology with silicon

San Diego, Calif., July 13, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Researchers at General Atomics (GA) announced a new concept to advance fusion power using advanced silicon carbide (SiC)-based materials that can withstand intense conditions in a high- fusion device. Offering significant safety and environmental benefits, the GA Modular Blanket (GAMBL) concept will support the accelerated development of a fusion pilot plant capable of producing safe, clean and always-on power.

GAMBL perfected the design of the breeder blanket, a critical component of a fusion reactor that absorbs neutrons, produces heat and creates tritium to make the fusion fuel cycle self-sustaining. This is described in an article published this month in the journal Synthesis Engineering and Design.

Many fusion power plant concepts use “reduced activation” steel for components such as the blanket because it resists radioactivity better than conventional steels. Advanced materials such as SiC have even lower activation properties and are therefore seen as superior solutions. SiC’s ability to withstand much higher temperatures than steel also means it can support more efficient power generation.

However, despite its excellent strength and durability, SiC is not seen as a long-term solution due to uncertainties about the material’s properties and its limited ability to contain high-pressure helium, which is envisioned as the coolant in many reactor designs. GAMBL overcomes these challenges by introducing several new features, including engineered SiC-tungsten materials for the internal surfaces of the tokamak. This allows for superior heat removal and durability capabilities, as well as a modular approach that allows manufacturing using existing technologies.

“Current short-term fusion reactor prototype designs rely on steels, but SiC-based materials have unique advantages such as low activation, high temperature resistance, and the ability to connect to a highly efficient power conversion system,” said Mark Tilak, who led the design team. of GAMBL. “GAMBL leverages the capabilities of SiC-based materials to deliver an intrinsically safe, environmentally friendly design.”

Since 2010, GA has conducted a robust research and development program to develop SiC composites for fourth-generation fission reactors and accident-tolerant fuel rods. For fusion, GAMBL’s simplified cooling system and lack of steel means the system can deliver much higher temperatures (>1000C vs ~500C) to the turbine generators. This means much higher power plant efficiency and cheaper electricity compared to structures using low activation steel.

“The approach to designing structures between metal alloys and ceramic-composite components is very different,” said Yutai Katoh, interim director of the Division of Materials Science and Technology and Program Director for Fusion Materials at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. “Because of this, the fusion community has been reluctant to seriously pursue reactor design using SiC composites. GAMBL is the type of effort that is needed if we are to maintain fusion reactor options that offer cost competitiveness and public acceptance.”

About General Atomics: Since the dawn of the atomic age, General Atomics’ innovations have advanced state-of-the-art technology across the spectrum of science and technology, from nuclear power and defense to medicine and high-performance computing. Behind a talented global team of scientists, engineers and professionals, GA’s unique expertise and capabilities continue to provide safe, sustainable, economical and innovative solutions to meet growing global demands.


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