About 11% of the world’s electricity is currently generated by nuclear energy. But for this energy to continue to play a prominent role and to aid the transition to a carbon-conscious economy, nuclear energy needs to become more widely accepted. Adrien Couet is working towards making this happen and creating more efficient, safer, and cheaper advanced reactor designs. The 2018 Grainger Institute for Engineering Faculty Scholar Award will aid his quest.
Couet, an assistant professor in the Department of Engineering Physics, studies accelerated alloy development for molten salt reactors (MSRs) technologies using high-throughput experimental methods. Compared to conventional nuclear reactors, MSRs promise to be safer, more efficient, produce less waste and reduce expenses and environmental impacts by using liquid fuel dissolved in a mixture of molten salts rather than solid fuels and water. Numerous private entities—including Terrapower LLC, led by Bill Gates—have identified MSRs as one of the most promising advanced reactor concepts. However, materials development remains a significant obstacle towards the deployment of molten salt reactors. Current methodologies characterize the materials’ reaction to a harsh environment, such as in a nuclear reactor, down to the atom! While necessary, this approach is more time consuming and is not conducive to fast materials development. Considering the current challenges in the energy sector, finding a faster approach is the ultimate goal. Couet is working on developing methods which test hundreds of materials at once, quickly characterize their response to the environment, and rapidly iterate, to optimize materials properties.
Professor Couet’s research is important because nuclear power may be the long-term solution to climate change as it provides low-carbon electricity. “The most exciting part about my research is the constantly evolving ideas to innovate in nuclear materials”, says Couet. “From developing novel techniques to testing new materials, [we have] the constant objective of making a dent in fighting climate change”.
Author: Rhiannon McCarthy