UW-Madison engineers receive $4.8M in DOE nuclear research awards

The U.S. Department of Energy recently awarded more than $45.3 million through its Nuclear Energy University Program (NEUP) to support university-led nuclear energy research and development projects, including a total of $4.8 million awarded for projects led by University of Wisconsin-Madison engineers.

Photo of Paul Wilson
Paul Wilson

UW-Madison is the lead institution for six of the 57 research and development projects awarded funding. NEUP seeks to maintain U.S. leadership in nuclear research across the country by providing top science and engineering faculty and their students with opportunities to develop innovative technologies and solutions for civil nuclear capabilities.

Notably, three researchers in the UW-Madison Department of Engineering Physics received their first NEUP R&D program awards as lead principal investigators in 2020: Assistant Professor Yongfeng Zhang, Assistant Professor Ben Lindley and Assistant Scientist Hwasung Yeom.

“Building in our long-standing success with the NEUP R&D program, we’re particularly excited to have three first-time PIs from the engineering physics department, as well as researchers from three other departments in the UW-Madison College of Engineering – industrial and systems engineeringmechanical engineering and materials science and engineering. These faculty, scientists and students come together from across the college in the Institute for Nuclear Energy Systems to advance nuclear technology,” says Engineering Physics Department Chair Paul Wilson, the Grainger Professor of Nuclear Engineering.

Photo of Kumar Sridharan
Kumar Sridharan

Wisconsin Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Engineering Physics Michael Corradini (PI) received $800,000 for his proposal, “Advanced instrumentation for in-situ diagnostics in reactor conditions.” The researchers will develop innovative instrumentation focusing on temperature and strain measurements to fill the void left by the Halden reactor and to enhance the experimental capabilities in the Transient Reactor Test Facility (TREAT) located at Idaho National Laboratory. The team will develop a fiber optic sensor system that offers an inherent resistance to electromagnetic interference unlike currently used sensors. UW-Madison Mechanical Engineering Assistant Professor Mark Anderson is collaborating with Corradini.

Engineering Physics Assistant Scientist Hwasung Yeom (PI) received $500,000 for his proposal, “Investigation of degradation mechanisms of Cr-coated zirconium alloy cladding in Reactivity Initiated Accidents (RIA).” The researchers will investigate thermal, mechanical and irradiation response of chromium-coated zirconium alloy claddings under RIA conditions, in comparison to uncoated zirconium-alloy cladding. The outcome of the project will be used for anticipated licensing applications to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, thereby accelerating use of coated accident-tolerant fuel concepts in U.S. commercial power reactors. Kumar Sridharan, a UW-Madison professor of engineering physics and materials science and engineering, is a collaborator on the project.

Engineering Physics Professor Kumar Sridharan (PI) received $799,838 for his proposal, “Surface peening and hybrid surface engineering approaches to mitigate initiation and resurgence of stress corrosion cracking in dry cask storage stainless steel canisters.” The researchers will develop and evaluate a wide range of surface peening treatments, as well as hybrid surface treatments, to mitigate initiation and growth of chloride-induced stress corrosion cracking (CISCC) in stainless-steel canisters for used nuclear fuel dry cask storage. Canister mock-ups with prototypical fusion welds will be used for this study. The researchers will perform characterization and testing of microstructure, compressive stresses, corrosion and CISCC. UW-Madison Engineering Physics Assistant Scientist Hwasung Yeom is a collaborator on the project.

Engineering Physics Assistant Professor Ben Lindley (PI) received $799,427 for his proposal, “Integrated solar and nuclear cogeneration of electricity and water using the sCO2 cycle.” The researchers will design and model a renewable, nuclear Integrated Energy System (IES), compatible with the RAVEN/Modelica framework, for co-generation of cost competitive electricity and clean water. The components of the IES to be included are concentrated solar power, the supercritical CO2/sCO2 cycle, multi-effect distillation, and the lead-cooled fast reactor. Gregory Nellis, William A. and Irene Ouweneel-Bascom Professor of mechanical engineering, Mechanical Engineering Assistant Professor Mark Anderson, and Laura Albert, Harvey D. Spangler Faculty Scholar and professor of industrial and systems engineering, are collaborators on the project.

Photo of Kaibo Liu
Kaibo Liu

Industrial and Systems Engineering Associate Professor Kaibo Liu (PI) received $400,000 for his proposal, “Engineering-informed, data-driven degradation modeling, prognostics and control for radiation-induced void swelling in reactor steels.” The researchers will advance the capability to model, predict and control void swelling in irradiated structural components through developing engineering-informed, advanced data-driven statistical and machine learning techniques. Excess swelling not only leads to dimensional instability, but also can cause severe embrittlement of internal materials. The proposed efforts will ensure more effective regulation, aging management and license renewal.

Engineering Physics Assistant Professor Yongfeng Zhang (PI) received $800,000 for his proposal, “Statistical modeling of the effect of microstructural heterogeneity on the irradiation behavior of TRISO fuel buffer layer.” The researchers will develop a predictive model for the irradiation behavior of the buffer layer in tristructural isotropic (TRISO) particle fuels to provide feedback for future design of TRISO particles. The effort will combine multiscale modeling and quantitative characterization to study several critical factors impacting buffer behavior, including buffer microstructure heterogeneity, buffer inner-pyrocarbon layer bonding strength, swelling of fuel kernel and irradiation temperature. UW-Madison Engineering Physics Assistant Professor Ramathasan Thevamaran and Sridharan are collaborators on the project.

Photo of Yongfeng Zhang
Yongfeng Zhang

In the joint NEUP R&D with Nuclear Science User Facilities program, UW-Madison is the lead institution on the only university award in this category, with one other award going to industry. Dane Morgan (PI), Harvey D. Spangler Professor in the UW-Madison Department of Materials Science and Engineering, received $500,000 for his proposal, “Machine learning on high-throughput databases of irradiation response and corrosion properties of selected compositionally complex alloys for structural nuclear materials.” The researchers will integrate high-throughput synthesis, irradiation and characterization with atomistic and mesoscale simulation and machine learning to develop understanding and predictive models for irradiation response and corrosion properties of selected alloys. The focus will be on structural Compositionally Complex Alloys (four or more elements in a single-phase solid solution) relevant for high-temperature nuclear applications. Engineering Physics Assistant Professor Adrien Couet and Dan Thoma, MS&E professor and director of the Grainger Institute for Engineering, are collaborators on the project.

In addition, UW-Madison was awarded one of the 21 awards for general research infrastructure under the NEUP infrastructure program. Professor and EP Department Chair Paul Wilson (PI) received $263,000 for the project, “Ex-situ and in-situ molten salt chemical analysis capabilities for the development of materials in molten salt environments.” The project will allow for the addition of a state-of-the-art laser induced breakdown spectroscopy system, which will complement the UW-Madison nuclear engineering program’s molten salt research capabilities with an ex-situ and in-situ chemical analysis characterization tool that can detect all impurities in the salt, even low-Z elements. With these additions, higher throughput analysis of alloys and salts for molten salt reactor applications would be developed and would accelerate material discoveries. Professors Couet and Sridharan will primarily use the equipment.

Author: Adam Malecek