REFINE: A coordinated materials programme for the sustainable REduction of spent Fuel vital In a closed loop Nuclear Energy cycle

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Faculty of Engineering

Abstract

Nuclear fission is currently internationally recognised as a key low carbon energy source, vital in the fight against global warming, which has stimulated much interest and recent investment. For example, RCUK's energy programme has identified nuclear fission as an essential part of the "trinity" of future fuel options for the UK, alongside renewables and clean coal. However, nuclear energy is controversial, with heartfelt opinion both for and against, and there is a real requirement to make it cleaner and greener. Large international programmes of work are needed to deliver safe, reliable, economic and sustainable nuclear energy on the scale required in both the short and long term, through Gen III+ & Gen IV reactor systems. A pressing worldwide need is the development of specific spent fuel reprocessing technology suitable for these new reactors (as well as for dealing with legacy waste fuel from old reactors).

The REFINE programme will assemble a multidisciplinary team across five partner universities and NNL, the UK's national nuclear laboratory to address this fuel reprocessing issue. The consortium will carry out a materials research programme to deliver fuel reprocessing by developing materials electrosynthesis through direct oxide reduction and selective electrodissolution and electroplating from molten salt systems. Developing, optimising and controlling these processes will provide methods for, and a fundamental understanding of, how best to reprocess nuclear fuel. This is in addition to the development of techniques for new molten salt systems, new sensing and analysis technologies and the establishment of the kinetics and mechanisms by which molten salt processes occur. This will facilitate rapid process development and optimization, as well as the generation of applications in related areas.

A key output of the programme will be the training and development of the multidisciplinary UK researchers required to make possible clean nuclear energy and generate complementary scientific and technological breakthroughs.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description We have demonstrated in principle that mixed metal oxides can be effectively separated via partial electro-reduction and anodic dissolution in molten salts. This evidence forms the basis for further investigation on separation and extraction of active elements from spent nuclear fuel. In addition, near the end of the project, we have tested active materials with the cavity electrode in the NFL and repeated the electrochemical findings from using non-active or surrogate materials. Since October 2016, I have been appointed a visiting fellow of the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics where R&D efforts have been continuing to improve and scale up molten salts reactors for safer and more efficient nuclear energy. My role has been mainly to collaborate with the Institute in molten salts based chemistry and processes.
Exploitation Route We had considered, together with other partners of the REFINE consortium, the second phase funding from the EPSRC, but this seems not happening. Because I have been undertaking secondment in the China Campus of the University of Nottingham, my effort in the past three years has been focused on looking for R&D and commercial opportunities in China in relation with molten salts based technologies for both energy and materials. In this line, I am now collaborating with molten salts researchers in the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics, CAS, as a guest research fellow (professor), aiming to better understand molten salts chemistry in relation with their research on the next generation of nuclear reactor. We are now in discussion with a couple of Chinese companies on the R&D for titanium production in molten salts.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Chemicals,Energy,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice

URL http://pubs.rsc.org/en/journals/journalissues/fd#!issueid=fd016190&type=current&issnprint=1359-6640
 
Description George Chen has been nominated as one of the "People of the Year 2015" in the field of energy and mineral resources by the high profile Chinese magazine "Scientific Chinese". He has also won the prestigious title of Specially Invited Expert of Zhejiang Province (1000 Talent Plan, 2015). He also received the 2014 Inman Medal in recognition of his contribution to molten salts electrochemistry. In addition, he has applied his academic reputation in the field of molten salts chemistry and technology to the organization and chairing of two successful international conferences, both took place in China: (1) Faraday Discussions - Liquid Salts for Energy and Materials, Ningbo, China, 11-13 May 2016", and (2) "2017 International Forum on Liquid Salts for Energy Storage Materials, Huairou, Beijing, 03-05 September 2017. Each of these conference was attended by over 100 attendees from academia, industry and government.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Chemicals,Energy,Environment,Other
Impact Types Societal

 
Description Lecture at CCS Utilization Meeting for All Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group in the Parliament on using molten salts for CO2 utilisation
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
 
Description Development of a First Class Discipline in Chemical Engineering and Technology
Amount ¥2,500,000 (CNY)
Organisation Zhejiang Provincial Government 
Start 01/2015 
End 12/2019
 
Description Ningbo 3315 Innovation Team 2014
Amount ¥10,000,000 (CNY)
Funding ID 3315 Innovation Team 
Organisation Ningbo Government 
Sector Public
Country China
Start 11/2014 
End 10/2018
 
Description REFINE
Amount £445,520 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/J000582/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 12/2011 
End 11/2015
 
Description Research and development of innovative storage technologies for marine renewable energy
Amount ¥4,000,000 (CNY)
Funding ID 2014A35001-1 
Organisation Ningbo Government 
Sector Public
Country China
Start 12/2014 
End 11/2017
 
Description Zhejiang 1000 Talents Plan (Innovation)
Amount ¥1,500,000 (CNY)
Funding ID Zhejiang 1000 Talents Plan 
Organisation Zhejiang Provincial Government 
Start 01/2015 
End 12/2019
 
Title An electrochemical cell with a metallic cavity working electrode for studying the electrochemical properties of spent nuclear fuel in molten salt 
Description This tool is called metallic cavity electrode. It is fabricated using a molybdenum foil with through holes 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact This is a first use of the metallic cavity electrode in an electrochemical cell in a glove box for nuclear material studies for studying the electrochemical properties of active spent nuclear fuel in molten salts. 
 
Title Surrogate materials for nuclear active materials in electrochemical studies 
Description Materials that have some of their electrochemical properties comparable to those spent nuclear fuels are tabulated with their electrochemical properties and basic physical properties. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2013 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The surrogate database has been used by other partners in the REFINE Consortium. 
 
Description Low temperature electrolyte 
Organisation Imperial College London
Department Department of Chemical Engineering
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Host supervisor of the research
Collaborator Contribution Laboratory research on developing the low temperature electrolyte
Impact A joint formal publication of a research article in Chemical Communications and a joint China patent application. In addition, a joint PCT patent application has been filed.
Start Year 2013
 
Description Materials Electrochemistry 
Organisation Wuhan University
Country China 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The collaboration aims to research and develop electrochemical technologies in relation with molten salts and materials. I have been the academic supervisor of more than 20 postgraduate students.
Collaborator Contribution Studentship, research funding, and laboratory
Impact We have jointly published over 50 peer reviewed journal articles and about five patent applications.
Start Year 2012
 
Description Materials for solar energy harvest and storage 
Organisation Wuhan University of Science and Technology
Country China 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I am the academic leader of a team of 7 staff members to research and develop on materials for solar energy harvest and storage.
Collaborator Contribution Provision of research funding, researchers and laboratory
Impact (1) Chen Y, Chen GZ*, Chapter X - New processing techniques for porous graphene architectures with potential applications in electrochemical energy storage devices, in Innovations in Engineered Porous Materials for Energy Generation and Storage Applications, ed. Avinash Balakrishnan, Science Publishers - CRC Press/Taylor & Francis Group, (2018) in press. (2) Gao YM*, Yang CH, Zhang CL, Qin QW, Chen GZ, Magnesia-stabilised zirconia solid electrolyte assisted electrochemical investigation of iron ions in the SiO2-CaO-MgO-Al2O3 molten slag at 1723 K, Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys., 19 (2017) 15876-15890. (3) Zhou YK*, Lu JM, Deng CJ, Zhu HX, Chen GZ, Zhang SW, Nitrogen-doped graphene guided formation of monodisperse microspheres of LiFePO4 nanoplates as the positive electrode material of lithium-ion batteries, J. Mater. Chem. A, 4 (2016) 12065-12072. (4) Zhang LX, Gu HZ, Sun HB, Gao FF, Chen Y*, Chen GZ, Molecular level one-step activation of agar to activated carbon for high performance supercapacitors, Carbon, 132 (2018) 573-579. (5) Hu HB, Gao YM*, Lao YG, Qin QW, Li GQ, Chen GZ, Yttria stabilized zirconia aided electrochemical investigation on ferric ions in mixed molten calcium and sodium chlorides, Mater. Metall. Trans. B, 49(5) (2018) 2794-2808. (6) Chen J, Zhou YK*, Li RZ, Wang X, Chen GZ*, Highly-dispersed nickel nanoparticles decorated titanium dioxide nanotube array for enhanced solar light absorption, App. Surf. Sci., 464 (2019) 716-724.
Start Year 2015
 
Description Molten Salt Reactor 
Organisation Chinese Academy of Sciences
Department Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics
Country China 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution As a visiting research fellow,
Collaborator Contribution Giving seminars on molten salt electrochemistry and research, examination of PhD thesis, advising ongoing research in the Institute, and writing joint publications
Impact (1) A joint paper has been prepared and submitted for publication. (2) A joint international Symposium was organised in 2016 at the Institute. (3) 8. Peng C*, Guan CZ, Lin J, Zhang SY, Bao HL, Wang Y, Xiao GO, Chen GZ*, Wang JQ*, A rechargeable high-temperature molten salt iron-oxygen battery, ChemSusChem, 11(11) (2018) 1880-1886.
Start Year 2016
 
Description REFINE Consortium 
Organisation National Nuclear Laboratory
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution We report to the consortium our research findings and also offer our help to the other partners, particularly UCL.
Collaborator Contribution All partners communicate with us their research findings at the project progress meetings.
Impact Most outputs from this collaboration are the mutual awareness and understanding of the research findings from each partner. This collaboration is multi-disciplinary, involving chemical engineering, materials science, electrochemistry, nuclear chemistry.
Start Year 2011
 
Description REFINE Consortium 
Organisation University College London
Department Chemical Engineering
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We report to the consortium our research findings and also offer our help to the other partners, particularly UCL.
Collaborator Contribution All partners communicate with us their research findings at the project progress meetings.
Impact Most outputs from this collaboration are the mutual awareness and understanding of the research findings from each partner. This collaboration is multi-disciplinary, involving chemical engineering, materials science, electrochemistry, nuclear chemistry.
Start Year 2011
 
Description REFINE Consortium 
Organisation University of Cambridge
Department Department of Earth Sciences
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We report to the consortium our research findings and also offer our help to the other partners, particularly UCL.
Collaborator Contribution All partners communicate with us their research findings at the project progress meetings.
Impact Most outputs from this collaboration are the mutual awareness and understanding of the research findings from each partner. This collaboration is multi-disciplinary, involving chemical engineering, materials science, electrochemistry, nuclear chemistry.
Start Year 2011
 
Description REFINE Consortium 
Organisation University of Edinburgh
Department School of Chemistry
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We report to the consortium our research findings and also offer our help to the other partners, particularly UCL.
Collaborator Contribution All partners communicate with us their research findings at the project progress meetings.
Impact Most outputs from this collaboration are the mutual awareness and understanding of the research findings from each partner. This collaboration is multi-disciplinary, involving chemical engineering, materials science, electrochemistry, nuclear chemistry.
Start Year 2011
 
Description REFINE Consortium 
Organisation University of Manchester
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We report to the consortium our research findings and also offer our help to the other partners, particularly UCL.
Collaborator Contribution All partners communicate with us their research findings at the project progress meetings.
Impact Most outputs from this collaboration are the mutual awareness and understanding of the research findings from each partner. This collaboration is multi-disciplinary, involving chemical engineering, materials science, electrochemistry, nuclear chemistry.
Start Year 2011
 
Title Low temperature electrolyte 
Description An organoaqueous electrolyte has been developed to enable supercapacitor to work at sub-zero temperatures below -60 degC. 
IP Reference 201410819759.2 
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted 2014
Licensed No
Impact An international patent application is being filed based on the Chinese version.
 
Description Seminar in Parliament 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact I will report this later here.

I will report this later
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity