Researchers from Bristol university are studying the feasibility of using nanoscale 3D printing techniques to test materials for building next-gen nuclear power plants.
Researchers led by Dr Anton Shterenlikht are investigating the use of nano-additive manufacturing techniques to build tiny irradiated structures, known as micromechanical coupons, for structural and behavioral testing.
UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is funding the Bristol study.
According to The Engineer, there has been a growing interest in using 3D printing to build advanced Generation IV and fusion nuclear systems, mainly due to its ability for producing components in shapes that are not possible with traditional methods.
Health and safety requirements prevent nuclear plant-friendly, macro-scale components from being tested in a laboratory – and this is turn puts additive manufacturing at cross roads.
The researchers have thus used micromechanical coupons to test the effects of irradiation on the structure of the materials, and then model them to extrapolate the results to the macro-scale.
The coupons are typically fabricated using Gallium or Helium Focused Ion Beam micro-milling, in which charged ions are fired at the sample to create the desired shape. However, this method is not representative of additive manufacturing techniques, and can leave damage such as helium bubbles or gallium implantation in the components.
The researchers are therefore investigating the use of techniques developed in photonics to fabricate the coupons without this damage, said Shterenlikht.
For example, the researchers will be investigating the use of electron beam induced deposition to deposit materials such as tungsten, iron or carbon onto a polymer scaffold. They will then remove the polymer, and fill out the scaffold using techniques such as chemical vapor deposition to deposit individual atoms of metal or carbon, said Shterenlikht.
“The material is heated to a very high temperature until it melts and evaporates, and the vaporised atoms are deposited on the substrate,” he said.
The researchers will use modelling to create virtual cracks with a range of different topologies, which will then be manufactured into the coupons for testing.
Image credits: web.em.doe.gov/Wikipedia. Content and source: The Engineer