University of Wisconsin–Madison

Research

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Focus AREAS

(1) Salt cooled and molten salt reactors: we work on development, design, and safety analysis of advanced reactors that can be deployed with urgency, to address the energy, climate, and air pollution challenge, and to be economically competitive with other sources of energy.

(2) Molten salt thermal-hydraulics: we do experimental studies with molten salts at prototypical reactor conditions, to study solidification phenomenology, and we develop system-level and component-level modeling tools for salt coolants.

(3) Tritium transport: we study tritium transport from molten salts into graphite, developing both experimental and modeling capability. We also study characterization of graphite matrix and nuclear graphite, which are used in FHRs and HTRs. The tools we use here are also more broadly applicable to transport, solubility, and reactions of other radioisotopes in the salt and the graphite.

(4) Molten salt chemistry: we are developing electrochemistry and optical spectroscopy tools in molten fluoride systems to investigate tritium transport and reaction kinetics, salt-graphite interface interactions, isotope transport and chemical speciation, and to characterize the chemical state of the molten salt coolants.

(5) Ethics: Innovation leads to disruptive emerging technologies, and new technology can raise new ethical questions. I am interested in the role of ethics in development of new technology. How do we empower engineers to engage others in discussion about the ethics of the development and the use of technology. Furthermore, ethics can be a driver for innovation. So I’m also interested in how and which values drive innovation in the energy field.

Funded Projects (selection)

 

2015-2018 DOE NEUP: Development and demonstration of an in-situ tritium scavenger

2016-2019 DOE NEUP: Overcooling transients, that include freezing, in FHR

2017-2020 DOE NEUP: Radiative Heat Transport and Optical Characterization of Molten Salts

2017-2020 DOE NEUP IRP: NuSTEM: Nuclear Science, Technology, and Education for Molten Salt Reactors (PI for Technical Mission 2: Optical/Chemical Sensor Development)

Research Tools

We perform experimental work using prototypical salts, and informed by modeling. We develop computational models informed by the physics that we observe experimentally. We further bring the two together in model validation and uncertainty quantification.

The codes and software platforms that we use the most are COMSOLMOOSE, and RELAP-7, and we like to use OriginPro for data processing.

The majority of our work is done with flibe, and we also work with other fluoride salt systems. The postgraduate, graduate, undergraduate, and visiting researchers in our group train in safe experimental work with high temperature molten fluoride salts, including FLiBe. FLiBe contains beryllium. Beryllium has high inhalation toxicity, requiring careful measures in handling it safely. Ensuring the purity of the fluoride salts is also an important challenge to which we pay careful attention.

We will be establishing the capability to work with tritium, which is a low-energy beta-emitter, and a highly mobile species.

We use a number of the shared user facilities on the UW campus: Material Science Center, Glass Shop, Student Machine Shop, Irradiated Materials Laboratory.

Our research activity has applications beyond salt-cooled and molten salt reactors, to solar thermal systems, thermal energy storage, fusion technologies, and other systems that use high temperature fluids in the range of 300 to 1000 oC.

Research Approaches (some thoughts)

It’s important to us that we stay connected as a group, and that we engage the postgraduate, graduate, and undergraduate researchers in our group in a meaningful educational experience, whether for short or long durations of their stay in the group. We use a number of cloud tools that we think help us stay connected despite very busy schedules, and that allow for a lot of transparency of the projects that everybody is working on. So for day-to-day research, we use Slack, WordPress, and Box (and GitHub for the MOOSE world).

It’s also important that we produce high quality, reproducible data, so we apply a graded approach to quality assurance. Producing reproducible and well documented data is important for the scientific process; it’s also particularly valuable in the nuclear industry for students to be trained in quality assurance.

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