3d printers

3D printers for use in fuel manufacturing: Uranium & Fuel

March 10, 2022

Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC) has adopted two 3D printers from additive manufacturing technology company Desktop Metal to form nuclear-grade silicon carbide for use in its innovative all-ceramic microencapsulated (FCM) nuclear fuel.

FCM fuel pellets contain TRISO practices – shown in blue – encased in silicon carbide (Image: USNC)

The printers are part of Desktop Metal’s line of X-Series binder jetting systems. USNC plans to adopt two more machines later this year, Desktop Metal said.

USNC’s FCM fuel – which the company intends to use in its Modular Micro-Reactor (MMR) – incorporates TRISO (tristructural isotropic uranium oxycarbide) fuel particles enclosed in a matrix of silicon carbide. According to a case study by Desktop Metal, the application of binder jet 3D printers facilitates a key step in fuel manufacturing.

Binder jetting 3D printing projects a binder into a bed of powder particles such as metal, sand, or ceramic to create a strong part, one thin layer at a time, without the need for hard tooling used in traditional methods of processing technical ceramics. Additionally, unlike 3D printing processes that rely on high temperatures during the deposition process to melt metal particles to bond them together, the entire process is performed at low temperatures: an important consideration for carbide. silicon, which has a high melting point.

Printing directly from digital design files without the need for tools makes it possible to quickly iterate designs and create unique shapes that could not otherwise be manufactured.

“Binder jetting is a reliable, low-cost, high-yield process for our complex mass production,” said Kurt Terrani, executive vice president of the USNC Core Division. “The advanced hardware capability of the X-Series machines is fundamental to our innovative approach to fuel design.”

A small format X-Series printer, InnoventX, is already installed at USNC facilities in Salt Lake City, Utah, and the nuclear fuel array has been developed for scaling on X25Pro and X160Pro systems more big.

Earlier this year, the UNSC licensed a 3D printing process for manufacturing refractory ceramic carbides using binder jet printing combined with chemical vapor infiltration from Oak Ridge National Laboratory. It also announced that it plans to begin operations later this year at a pilot fabrication plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where basic uranium powder will be turned into TRISO fuel particles.

USNC’s MMR is a 15 MW high-temperature thermal and 5 MW electric gas-cooled reactor currently under license in Canada and the United States. Global First Power plans to build and operate an MMR unit at Chalk River Laboratories in Canada by 2026.

Research and writing by World Nuclear News