Researcher studies carbon fibers for nuclear reactor safety

December 10, 2007

Carbon fibers that are only one-tenth the size of a human hair, but three times stronger than steel, may hold up to the intense heat and radiation of next generation nuclear power generators, providing a safety mechanism. The “Gen IV” power-generating reactors are being designed to provide low-cost electricity, but with a built-in safety mechanism current reactors do not have.

The Department of Energy (DoE) has awarded chemical engineering professor Amod Ogale, deputy director of the Center for Advanced Engineering Fibers and Films (CAEFF), a $450,000 grant to research carbon fibers embedded into a carbon matrix that do not melt in extreme temperatures for potential use in Gen IV power generators. Presently, about 20 percent of electricity produced in the United States is from nuclear sources.

“One proposed design of the next generation of nuclear plants will consist of a helium-cooled generator that will operate in the range of 1,200 to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit,” says Ogale. “A critical safety requirement for this reactor is that it can shut down safely in the event of a malfunction where coolant flow is interrupted. Steel alloys currently used internally in reactors melt at the peak temperature of 2500 degrees Fahrenheit, where carbon fiber composites do not.”

Carbon fiber composites are already used successfully in jetliner brake systems because of their ability to withstand high temperatures without melting. However, their performance in a nuclear environment is not adequately understood.

Ogale and his team will study the neutron-radiation damage effects on carbon fibers.

His prior research has shown that including carbon nanotubes (large molecules of carbon that are tube-shaped and 30 nanometers in size) in carbon fibers leads to the development of a more uniform texture that improves the properties of the ultra-thin carbon fibers.

In his research, Ogale expects to generate high graphitic crystallinity, a solid ordered pattern which is evenly distributed so that any changes in fiber properties due to radiation can be minimized.

Irradiation experiments will be conducted in collaboration with researchers at Oak Ridge National Labs. South Carolina State University researchers also will participate in the study.

“This research will lead to a fundamental understanding of how the nanotubes set themselves up to provide radiation-damage tolerance to carbon fibers,” said Ogale.

Source: Clemson University

Explore further: A little light construction—laser welding in three acts

Related Stories

A little light construction—laser welding in three acts

November 9, 2016

Welding is said to be more art than science. In part, this is a nod to the vital, skilled work that welders perform. It's also recognition of the fact that the physics of the process is really, really difficult to understand.

Laboratory Grows World Record Length Carbon Nanotube

September 14, 2004

University of California scientists working at Los Alamos National Laboratory in collaboration with chemists from Duke University have recently grown a world record-length four-centimeter-long, single-wall carbon nanotube.

Recommended for you

Particles self-assemble into Archimedean tilings

December 8, 2016

(Phys.org)—For the first time, researchers have simulated particles that can spontaneously self-assemble into networks that form geometrical arrangements called Archimedean tilings. The key to realizing these structures ...

Nano-calligraphy on graphene

December 8, 2016

Scientists at The University of Manchester and Karlsruhe Institute of Technology have demonstrated a method to chemically modify small regions of graphene with high precision, leading to extreme miniaturisation of chemical ...

ANU invention to inspire new night-vision specs

December 7, 2016

Scientists at The Australian National University (ANU) have designed a nano crystal around 500 times smaller than a human hair that turns darkness into visible light and can be used to create light-weight night-vision glasses.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

SDMike
not rated yet Dec 10, 2007
Since graphite acts as a neutron moderator, how will carbon fibers interact with neutrons?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.