Prolonged exposure to high temperature and radiation results in micro-structural changes to materials and changes in behaviour. Predicting the extended lifetime and consequently safety of existing nuclear plants and designing the next generation of nuclear plants requires a fundamental understanding of materials performance.
The Birmingham Centre for Nuclear Education and Research has access to one of the largest Metallurgy and Materials Schools in the UK with over 30 permanent academic staff, over 40 postdoctoral research fellows and over 130 postgraduate research students. In addition to materials performance, the Centre has significant high-value manufacturing capability and collaborates with international companies and world leading research intensive organisations.
High Temperature Materials
High operating temperature and pressures are necessary to increase the overall efficiency of power plant. In order to reach these efficiencies new materials must be developed. The next generation of nuclear plant will operate at significantly higher temperatures and the Birmingham Centre for Nuclear Education and Research is investing significantly in research and development in this area.
Ceramic Matrix Composites
There is a good case to be made for using ceramic matrix composites in the next generation of nuclear reactors and development and evaluation of these materials is ongoing in the Institute.
Current challenges for stainless steel and other alloy components include surface degradation through wear and corrosion. The Birmingham Centre for Nuclear Education and Research is investigating and developing novel surface engineering technologies that will significantly increase hardness, enhance corrosion resistance and increase wear resistance by up to two orders of magnitude.
Corrosion and Cracking
The Centre has significant experience and capability in understanding and developing materials to limit corrosion and cracking both in a nuclear plant and a nuclear waste storage context. The majority of the Centre's activity in this area is in collaboration with national and international stakeholders and by its very nature is truly interdisciplinary.
Microstructure Characterisation and Modelling
Radiation damage can cause significant changes within an alloy and the morphology of radiation damage needs to be understood so that it can be limited. The Birmingham Centre for Nuclear Education and Research has a particular interest in this area. The team work closely with industry quantifying micro-structural development during alloy process routes, particularly determining distributions of grains and precipitates as they develop spatially and over time. There is significant collaborative work with industry in the development of non-destructive sensors that aim to monitor characteristics such as phase transformation during hot rolling processes.
The Birmingham Centre for Nuclear Education and Research, through the experience and expertise of its materials scientists, has historically played an important role in understanding the basis for the long-term continued operation of nuclear plant. This expertise will be vital in developing the next generation of materials for reactors of the future. The Centre also has significant chemical engineering expertise that is being utilised to understand and mitigate the development of sludge pile that can cause tube fouling and pose a threat to the safe and continuous operation of some plant.