DOE ARPA-E Project to Reduce Advanced Nuclear Reactor Waste and Sustain Future Deployment of Carbon-Free Nuclear Power
Ashutosh Goel, an associate professor of materials science and engineering at Rutgers University’s School of Engineering, is the principal investigator, or PI, on a collaborative project funded by a $4 million award from the U.S. Department of Energy Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).
The three-year Rutgers-led project is one of 11 projects to receive a combined total of $36 million in funding from the ARPA-E Optimizing Nuclear Waste and Advanced Reactor Disposal Systems (ONWARDS) program, which seeks to increase the deployment and use of nuclear power as a reliable source of clean energy, while limiting the amount of waste produced by advanced nuclear reactors (AR).
“It feels great to be able to lead this collaborative project,” says Goel. “The technology we hope to develop will be revolutionary.”
Charting a Course to Clean Energy
As the nation’s largest source of clean energy, nuclear power provides roughly 50% of its carbon-free electricity and about 20% of its electricity overall. Yet nuclear power production results in radioactive waste that must be disposed of and safely stored.
The Rutgers team is charged with delivering a simple, scalable route for transforming used nuclear fuel (UNF) into cermet – a durable, heat-resistant ceramic and metallic composite waste form.
“This is a futuristic, transformational project,” says Goel. “The DOE is interested in new technology to help the nation move toward greener energy and it expects us to help deliver it.”
According to Goel, the overriding focus of the ARPA-E initiative is to develop ways to dispose of and store the waste produced by next-generation advanced nuclear reactors ahead of time. “We’ve learned lessons from the past. In Hanford, Washington, 55 million barrels of stored nuclear waste from defense proliferation have yet to be cleaned up.”
“Advanced reactors, like those being developed by TerraPower, will have waste that the technology we are developing will eventually deal with,” he explains. “We don’t know exactly what kind of new nuclear reactors will be installed and we don’t know what exactly the future holds for us. That’s why the technology we proposed is one-size-fits-all and will be a single, versatile platform for taking care of waste produced by any kind of reactor installed in the U.S.”
A Collaborative Team
Goel is leading a team that includes co-PIs from Alfred University; University of South Carolina; Missouri University of Science and Technology; Washington State University; Savanah River National Laboratory; and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
“Everyone has their own part to play,” Goel says.
While other team members are working on component parts – such as ceramic and metallic components of waste that are durable and processable -- during the first year and a half of the project, Goel and Alfred University will be ready to receive the parts and then spend the next year and a half making a cermet. Ultimately, the cermet that is developed will be tested by the national labs that will be leading the effort to scale it up.
“We’re optimistic and confident and hoping for the best,” says Goel, who looks forward to involving post-docs in the project.