ORNL builds a novel reactor

14 July 2020

Scientists at the Department of Energy Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have their eyes on the prize: the Transformational Challenge Reactor, or TCR, a microreactor built using 3D printing and other new approaches that will be up and running by 2023.
California-based Kairos Power is looking to develop innovative nuclear technology on a tight timeline, which led the company to partner with ORNL to produce a specific part for its reactor prototype.
The part is a closed pump impeller, part of a heat exchanger loop designed to move molten salt through a heat source. It needs to withstand temperatures up to 600 degrees celsius, and it needs to perfectly fit with the rest of the prototype so that there’s no variance in the way that it works.
It needs to have exactly the right shape, exactly the right dimensions, and exactly the right surfaces. That’s where advanced manufacturing excels. Without it, Kairos would have to make a mold, then cast, finish, and machine the prototype before ever testing it a process that costs more and can take a month or longer. Most companies would max out at two or three iterations before ending testing. With a next-day turnaround in manufacturing, the ORNL team worked with Kairos engineers to adjust their design for additive manufacturing without compromising the component’s performance.
With additive manufacturing technologies, ORNL can take a computer-aided design, or CAD, file, 3D-print a scaled-down prototype and give it to a company for testing in their environments relevant for their specific application.