New reactor-liner alloy material offers strength, resilience

New reactor-liner alloy material offers strength, resilience
Osman El Atwani (left) and Enrique Martinez at the transmission electron microscope. Credit: Los Alamos National Laboratory

A new tungsten-based alloy developed at Los Alamos National Laboratory can withstand unprecedented amounts of radiation without damage. Essential for extreme irradiation environments such as the interiors of magnetic fusion reactors, previously explored materials have thus far been hobbled by weakness against fracture, but this new alloy seems to defeat that problem.

"This material showed outstanding radiation resistance when compared to pure nanocrystalline tungsten and other conventional ," said Osman El Atwani, the lead author of the paper and the principal investigator of the "Radiation Effects and Plasma Material Interactions in Tungsten Based Materials" project at Los Alamos. "Our investigations of the material under different stress states and response of the material under plasma exposure are ongoing."

"It seems that we have developed a material with unprecedented radiation resistance," said principal investigator Enrique Martinez Saez, a coauthor of the paper at Los Alamos. "We have never seen before a material that can withstand the level of radiation damage that we have observed for this high-entropy [four or more principal elements] alloy. It seems to retain outstanding mechanical properties after , as opposed to traditional counterparts, in which the mechanical properties degrade easily under irradiation."

Arun Devaraj, a materials scientist and project collaborator at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, noted, "Atom probe tomography revealed an interesting atomic level layering of different elements in these alloys, which then changed to nanoclusters when subjected to radiation, helping us to better understand why this unique alloy is highly tolerant."

The material, created as a thin film, is a quaternary nanocrystalline tungsten-tantalum-vanadium-chromium alloy that has been characterized under extreme thermal conditions and after irradiation.

"We haven't yet tested it in high-corrosion environments," Martinez Saez said, "but I anticipate it should perform well there also. And if it is ductile, as expected, it could also be used as turbine material since it is a refractory, high-melting-point material."

Described this week in a paper in Science Advances, the project was a multi-institutional effort, involving researchers and facilities of Los Alamos National Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Warsaw University of Technology, Poland, and the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority.

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More information: O. El-Atwani et al, Outstanding radiation resistance of tungsten-based high-entropy alloys, Science Advances (2019). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aav2002
Journal information: Science Advances

Citation: New reactor-liner alloy material offers strength, resilience (2019, March 5) retrieved 19 July 2019 from
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Mar 05, 2019
W-based refractory HEAs have been recently developed in the context of high-temperature applications, showing high melting temperature (above 2873 K) and superior mechanical properties at high temperatures.


Sounds like it could be useful in a nuclear thermal rocket engine. Extreme radiation resistance, hardness, and resistance to corrosion, plus a melting point above 2873 K (4,712 F), could make for an efficient rocket engine. 38% W, 36% Ta, 15% Cr, and 11% V.

Mar 06, 2019
Yes, a few thousand square yards of this stuff should be very cheap...

Mar 06, 2019
As a thin film anything is cheap.

Mar 06, 2019
In manufacturing (particularly in custom-made parts like the inside of a fusion reactor chamber) the manufacturing process is hugely more expensive than the material.

Before going to Uni I had a summer job at an auto plant. They had signs over the different processing stations how much the part was worth (i.e. how much money is lost if that particular processing step is messed up by the operator). The specific part I was working on went from 25DM(back then still Deutschmarks) right off the press to well over 300DM by the time it had passed all processing stations and went to installation/painting.

Takeaway message: Material costs (and by extension material savings) aren't nearly as important as one would think. Processing cost/savings are far more important.
This can easily be seen when looking at the huge savings one can achieve from economies of scale.

Mar 06, 2019
Yes, a few thousand square yards of this stuff should be very cheap...

Maybe that is where the confusion is. Nobody is proposing anything that big at this point. Current designs for NTRs are much, much smaller than that. Take a look at the link below, especially NASA's previously proposed Copernicus Mars Transfer vehicle with 3 nuclear engines. It is better to have rocket engines comparable in size to current rocket engines (and payload fairings) to make lofting them into space with chemical propulsion practical. NTRs are for in-space use only. Generally speaking, it is also more effective to run a smaller engine longer, so materials like the one described above are potentially very useful. I suspect the final material can be fine tuned for an NTR with an even higher melting point because the higher the operating temperature the higher the specific impulse (efficiency).


Mar 06, 2019
As a thin film anything is cheap.

That's what Da Schitts' boyfriends say about his rectum.

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