Microreactor, as planned by the United States’ Department of Energy (DOE), is said to be in the works to help researchers and users understand how the device can be integrated with other technologies.
The Microreactor Applications Research Validation and EvaLuation (MARVEL) liquid-metal cooled microreactor could possibly be operational within three years, as per DOE.
What is a Microreactor?
According to Wisegeek, a microreactor is a small, factory fabricated, transportable device where chemical reactions can take place. It usually measures less than an inch (2.54 centimeters) in length and breadth and less than one sixteenth of an inch (1.56 millimeters) in thickness, although dimensions vary.
The microreactor is said to have significant advantages over more traditional, larger scale means of carrying out chemical reactions. The high surface-area-to-volume ratio enables reactions to proceed more quickly and often at a lower temperature than is possible at larger scales.
Highly exothermic reactions that are potentially hazardous and damaging to equipment can be carried out safely; any heat generated dissipates quickly due to the much smaller volumes of reactants.
A failure in some part of a traditional chemical plant could result in the release of large amounts of hazardous chemicals or completely shut down production. However, a plant consisting of a large array of microreactors would not be significantly affected by the failure of one part.
What Does the ‘MARVEL’ Program Hope to Achieve?
The DOE MARVEL Program, spearheaded by Idaho National Laboratory (INL), seeks to provide a source of heat to the decentralized generation in civilian, industrial, and defense energy sectors.
Currently researchers are doing important applied research and data gathering to reduce the risks associated with the new technology. This is also made to boost the innovation’s performance and manufacturing readiness of the microreactors.
The MARVEL design is primarily based on existing technology and will be built using off-the-shelf components to hasten its construction.
It will cover a 100 kW thermal fission reactor, based on the SNAP-10A design. This type of reactor was developed in the 1960s as a 45 kWt thermal nuclear fission reactor for use in space missions.
The reactor, sodium-cooled, with natural circulation cooling, will have an operating temperature of 500-550°C and will be fuelled by high-assay low-enriched uranium from available research materials. It will use Stirling engines to transfer energy from the core to make electricity.
MARVEL to Reside in TREAT for Tech Demonstrations
DOE said that the reactor, which will be built inside the Transient Reactor Test facility (TREAT) at INL, could be installed in less than a year.
“By providing prompt, small-scale demonstrations, MARVEL will offer experimental capabilities that are not currently available at DOE’s national laboratories,” the department disclosed.
The test bed will also help companies show their designs.
Partners in the industry can connect their microreactor end-user applications to the system in order to test and demonstrate technology readiness. MARVEL will also test and demonstrate the reactor system’s capacity to manage grid demand and reactor power supply, which could support a range of applications such as integrated renewable water purification, energy systems, heat for industrial processes and hydrogen…