Engineering news

Hardy composite materials could boost efficiency of future fusion reactors

Professional Engineering

Stock image. SiC/SiC could boost the efficiency of future fusion reactors, the NCC said (Credit: Shutterstock)
Stock image. SiC/SiC could boost the efficiency of future fusion reactors, the NCC said (Credit: Shutterstock)

A collaboration between the National Composites Centre and the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) is developing composite materials that could boost the efficiency of future fusion power reactors.

Funded by the Royce Materials Challenge Accelerator Programme (MCAP) and led by UKAEA, the Haste-F programme is focused on addressing key engineering challenges in the use of silicon carbide composites, known as SiC/SiCs.

The damage tolerant materials have excellent radiation resistance and operating temperatures up to 1,600ºC, making them ideal candidates to withstand the extreme environments within a fusion reactor. The materials also have low density, providing advantages over traditional metallic materials.

Compared with advanced steel designs, SiC/SiC components used in fusion reactors could double the electricity generated from every gigawatt of thermal energy produced, the NCC said.

“This significant increase in efficiency of future fusion reactors could save the UK billions of pounds in reduced energy costs, and by reducing the number of reactors required to meet demand,” the announcement said.

Working with UKAEA, the NCC said it has identified a “step change” in SiC/SiC manufacturing with the potential to transform the fusion sector, developing an efficient, scalable and cost-effective manufacturing route for ‘fusion-grade’ materials. 

“Silicon carbide composites have the potential to enhance fusion by enabling reactors to operate at higher temperatures for improved thermal efficiency, greatly increasing the commercial viability of fusion energy production,” said Dr James Wade-Zhu, senior materials engineer at the UKAEA.

The collaboration with the UKAEA has resulted in a “significant process innovation”, the NCC said, reducing the cost of manufacturing to one-fifth of what can currently be achieved while also shortening cycle times.

“Haste-F also increases design freedom for fusion components by enabling more complex shapes and thicker sections than can be made via current manufacturing methods. These advances will allow engineers to access all the advantages of SiC/SiC at a far lower price point,” the announcement said.

Principal engineer Virtudes Rubio said: “The National Composites Centre is accelerating net zero energy generation by developing high-value composites for extreme environments such as fusion reactors. This could unlock high-volume, high-performance SiC/SiC to the UK, driving a major transformation in sectors that utilise high-temperature CMCs [ceramic matrix composites], such as nuclear, defence, space and aerospace.”

Fusion energy could play an important role in the UK’s long-term energy security. The Step (Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production) programme aims to construct the first grid-connected reactor by 2040. 

Want the best engineering stories delivered straight to your inbox? The Professional Engineering newsletter gives you vital updates on the most cutting-edge engineering and exciting new job opportunities. To sign up, click here.

Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.


Read more related articles

Professional Engineering magazine

Professional Engineering app

  • Industry features and content
  • Engineering and Institution news
  • News and features exclusive to app users

Download our Professional Engineering app

Professional Engineering newsletter

A weekly round-up of the most popular and topical stories featured on our website, so you won't miss anything

Subscribe to Professional Engineering newsletter

Opt into your industry sector newsletter

Related articles