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Cost Reduction Technology for Neutron Absorbers in Microreactor Applications

Award Information
Agency: Department of Energy
Branch: N/A
Contract: DE-SC0022822
Agency Tracking Number: 0000265597
Amount: $199,886.00
Phase: Phase I
Program: SBIR
Solicitation Topic Code: C54-36n
Solicitation Number: N/A
Solicitation Year: 2022
Award Year: 2022
Award Start Date (Proposal Award Date): 2022-06-27
Award End Date (Contract End Date): 2023-03-26
Small Business Information
631 Barbrow Lane
United States
DUNS: 964860451
HUBZone Owned: No
Woman Owned: No
Socially and Economically Disadvantaged: No
Principal Investigator
 Drew Spradling
 (865) 966-2170
Business Contact
 Drew Spradling
Phone: (865) 966-2170
Research Institution

Statement of the Problem that is Being Addressed
Microreactor technology has the potential to supply off-grid power to a diverse base of applications including data centers, mines, remote communities, electric vehicle charging stations, and industrial plants, among many others. While several companies have made considerable progress in the technology that can make these reactor systems feasible from a technical standpoint, there is still an economic hurdle to overcome to compete with other remote off-grid power technologies such as solar, fossil energy (natural gas/diesel), wind, micro-hydro, and fuel cells. While component costs for nuclear power plants at grid-scale can seem relatively low, at the microscale some of these components play an outsized role in either the capital or operational cost of the reactor system. One specific example is the neutron absorber and shielding components that are critical to the design and operation of most fission power plants. Currently however, there is limited domestic manufacturing capability for these critical materials and the current high component price is limiting the economic competitiveness of microreactor technologies.
Statement of how this Problem is being Addressed
MillenniTEK is proposing to demonstrate a unique fabrication technology to produce neutron absorbing and shielding components that can support lower installed capital and operating costs that have an outsized effect on the economics of microreactors. A significant constraint is the fact that both the traditional raw materials and forming processes are prohibitively expensive and limit the economic competitiveness of microreactors. This project will explore a recently demonstrated continuous method to manufacture the raw material that is lower cost than traditional batch methods. Additionally, extreme temperature and pressure is required to fully densify the material without adding impurities that would fail to meet the specifications already accepted and imposed by the commercial nuclear power industry. To advance the state-of-the-art, we will demonstrate the use of spark plasma sintering to produce components at a fraction of the time required by traditional hot pressing, without the use of sintering aids. A goal by the end of Phase I is to demonstrate the feasibility of reducing the manufacturing costs by >25% over what is currently available for these components.
Commercial Applications and Other Benefits
In addition to microreactor applications, there are other significant potential areas where this innovation could be commercialized, including small modular reactors, advanced reactors for Gen IV nuclear plants, fusion power, nuclear thermal propulsion, and fission power reactors for lunar and Mars surface use.

* Information listed above is at the time of submission. *

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