In the quest for more efficient fusion power plants, a new frontier is being explored at MIT’s Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering. Doctoral student Alexander O’Brien, under the guidance of Professor Ju Li, is pioneering the use of 3D printing to create ceramic-metal composites for fusion reactors.
Traditionally, materials for fusion power plants have struggled to withstand the extreme conditions, but additive manufacturing could provide a solution. O’Brien’s research involves implanting metals (Inconel 718) with ceramic nanoparticles (nanocarbides and silicides), resulting in robust metal matrix composites. These composites show promise, particularly for components such as the vacuum vessel that must endure high temperatures, corrosive molten salts, and radiation.
What sets 3D printing apart is its precision. It allows for the strategic placement of ceramic nanoparticles, ensuring uniformity and structural integrity. A powder bed fusion process further refines these materials, creating a uniform structure.
This breakthrough opens up exciting possibilities for the fusion power industry. The ability to engineer materials with such precision could pave the way for the next generation of fusion power plants. O’Brien’s work has already led to a research paper in the journal Additive Manufacturing, which you can find at this link.
The implications of O’Brien’s work extend beyond academia. His exploration of metal matrix composites through 3D printing holds the promise of revolutionizing fusion power plant materials. As he contemplates pursuing this field even further, including the possibility of a startup, the future of nuclear materials printing looks increasingly exciting.
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