The UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) and the National Composites Centre (NCC) in Bristol have partnered on the Haste-F programme to address engineering challenges in the use of silicon carbide ceramic matrix composites (SiC/SiC) in future fusion power reactors. Funded by the Royce Materials Challenge Accelerator Programme (MCAP), the collaboration will focus on sharing knowledge and expertise in the application of SiC/SiC in fusion reactors, with the NCC developing a cost-effective manufacturing route for ‘fusion-grade’ SiC materials.
SiC/SiC composites have excellent radiation resistance, high operating temperatures up to 1,600°C, and are damage-tolerant materials, making them ideal for use in fusion reactors. Compared with advanced steel designs, SiC/SiC components used in fusion reactors have the potential to double the electricity generated from every gigawatt of thermal energy produced, leading to significant savings in energy costs and reducing the number of reactors required to meet demand.
The Haste-F programme aims to improve the commercial viability of fusion energy production by enabling reactors to operate at higher temperatures for improved thermal efficiency. The collaboration between UKAEA and the NCC has resulted in a significant process innovation that reduces the cost of manufacturing to one-fifth of what can currently be achieved while shortening cycle times. Haste-F also increases design freedom for fusion components by enabling more complex shapes and thicker sections than can be made via current manufacturing methods.
Virtudes Rubio, Principal Engineer at the NCC, stated that this collaboration could unlock high-volume, high-performance SiC/SiC to the UK, driving a major transformation in sectors that utilise high-temperature CMCs, such as nuclear, defence, space, and aerospace. Dr James Wade-Zhu, Senior Materials Engineer at the UK Atomic Energy Authority, expressed his pleasure at working closely with the NCC to address concerns around the scalability, formability, and performance of current SiC/SiC grades, bringing about a generation of new UK IP in the process.
This partnership is a significant step towards developing efficient and cost-effective manufacturing methods for SiC/SiC materials, bringing fusion power a step closer to commercial viability and supporting the UK’s net-zero energy goals.