Argonne National Laboratory

Argonne to work with small businesses on nuclear technologies

By Greg CunninghamJuly 6, 2016

The U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) Argonne National Laboratory will be working with four small businesses on nuclear technology projects under the auspices of DOE's Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN).

The projects will be funded through GAIN's Nuclear Energy Voucher pilot program, which is providing up to $2 million to assist new entrants into the nuclear field as they build the collaborations necessary to accelerate the development and deployment of innovative nuclear technologies. The program grants the companies access to the extensive nuclear research capabilities available at DOE's national laboratories and Nuclear Science User Facilities partners.

"We congratulate these small businesses selected for the NE Voucher pilot program, and we look forward to working with each of these organizations as they develop their innovative concepts," said John Kotek, DOE Acting Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy. "In addition to this financial support, DOE will be fostering innovation by facilitating these groups' access to the extensive nuclear research capabilities hosted at DOE national labs and our partners in the Nuclear Science User Facilities program."

"Our staff is excited to work with these innovative small businesses to support them in these advanced nuclear technology projects."

Argonne will work with Terrestrial Energy to determine the thermophysical properties of molten salts, which the company plans to use in its Integral Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR). The IMSR uses two molten salt streams — a fuel salt that contains the uranium and another salt to transfer heat from the reactor to the electricity generation system — in a design that will optimize uranium utilization and energy production while reducing the generation of waste.

Argonne will also work with Oklo, Inc., to speed deployment of a comprehensive database of information about metallic nuclear fuel performance. The historical data were generated during decades of Argonne's development of sodium-cooled fast reactors, which use metallic fuels. Oklo will work with Argonne to make the information more approachable to small companies that might lack the resources to tackle the massive database.

The third project will pair Argonne with CompRex, a company that is developing a new type of compact heat exchanger for applications with high temperature and pressure, such as nuclear reactors. The heat exchangers can be used for advanced electricity generation using supercritical carbon dioxide instead of steam, a field in which Argonne has extensive experience.

The final project focuses on a new type of energy storage being developed by a company called BgtL. The new approach uses a phase-changing aluminum material to store energy from a heat source, such as a nuclear reactor, for later use. The devices would allow nuclear power plants to increase and decrease electricity output based on grid demand without having to change the output of the nuclear reactor itself.

"Our staff is excited to work with these innovative small businesses to support them in these advanced nuclear technology projects," said Argonne's Nuclear Engineering Division director Jordi Roglans-Ribas. "The capabilities of the national laboratories are unique in the world, and we are happy to work with our sister laboratories to provide access to those capabilities through the efforts of GAIN."

Other research organizations that will work on voucher projects include Idaho, Pacific Northwest and Oak Ridge national laboratories, as well as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Idaho National Laboratory leads the overall GAIN initiative for DOE in partnership with Argonne and Oak Ridge national laboratories.

Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation's first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America's scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science.

The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit the Office of Science website.