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Next Generation of Nuclear Technology

Auburn Engineering will utilize a Department of Energy award to expand the university's existing nuclear research infrastructure.

By Virginia Speirs

The United States Department of Energy awarded Auburn University’s Samuel Ginn College of Engineering a combined $1.21 million to develop advanced manufacturing technology for next-generation reaction designs and expand the university’s existing nuclear research infrastructure. 

“In the United States, nuclear power represents approximately 20% of the electricity consumed without greenhouse gas emission,” said Xiaoyuan Lou, principal investigator of both projects and associate professor of materials engineering. “Innovative manufacturing technologies and advanced materials are both crucial to the future economic outlook of nuclear power and the development of next-generation reactor designs.” 

Through the first award of $1 million funded by the DOE’s Nuclear Energy Enabling Technologies (NEET) program, Auburn will lead a joint university-industry team to develop and demonstrate the powder metallurgy-hot isostatic pressing (PM-HIP) cladding and joining strategies to manufacture dissimilar metal pressure retaining components. 

The traditional approach to manufacture these structures often involves multiple lengthy and costly fabrication steps and requires vastly different expertise, resulting in high manufacturing cost and delayed deployment schedule. PM-HIP can be an alternative solution to handle the design complexity, reduce manufacturing cost and time, and eliminate the burden of in-service inspection. 

The second infrastructure award of $210,000 supports Lou to enhance the advanced mechanical testing capabilities at Auburn University. Bart Prorok, interim program chair for materials engineering, is the co-PI on the project. Lou said the new equipment acquisitions would boost the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering’s nuclear research and training opportunities and expand the existing nuclear research programs. 

“Nuclear power not only ensures reliable and clean electricity for the American people but also supplies propulsion energy to Navy operation and NASA’s space exploration,” Lou said. “These awards provide us opportunities to work closely with the major nuclear technology providers at the forefront of technological innovation.”