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Mar 18, 2017 11:08 AM EDT

Texas A&M Researchers Makes Porous Fuel Pellets For Energy Efficiency

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Texas A&M researchers aim to make huge impacts on energy efficiency through small materials level changes. They are currently developing porous fuel pellets to replace solid pellets used now to extend fuel life.

The researchers are from the Fuel Cycles and Materials Laboratory within the Department of Nuclear Engineering. These porous fuel pellets is expected to reduce waste and increase how much energy the reactor can get through the fuel.

In Texas A&M Engineering's official website, graduate student researcher Yesenia Salazar works with copper powder used to produce the fuel pellets and test how they respond to various pressures and scenarios. Copper is mainly used because its properties can be easily translated to digital code, which is important for the computational factor of the project.

Salazar said that the team's overall goal when they made the pellet is to take measurements of its porosity. They want to develop pores that are homogenous pores and test them at different pressure and temperature levels to see how they would do inside a reactor setting.

The pores in the fuel pellets are intended to help counteract a phenomenon that happens during nuclear power generation. This phenomenon is when pellets begin to swell because of the gases and fission products that are expelled during the energy generation process.

With this, if the pellets continue to expand, it becomes dangerous not only in producing energy but also when the fuel source has to be removed. The pores are meant to delay the expansion of the pellets.

Salazar noted that even just a little bit of porosity in the pellets can provide enough space for the gases that are coming out as well as the swelling. According to Phys.org, the team would like to see a rise of about 5 percent in comparison to the lifetime of current fuel cells.

They have not determined how long it will take for the expansion of the gasses and fission materials to fill up the space in the pores before they start to expand. This could depend on the type of reactor and fuel source used.

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