UK-based MoltexFLEX has been awarded a research grant by the Henry Royce Institute of Advanced Materials (Royce). MoltexFLEX a subsidiary of Canada’s Moltex Energy, in October announced its FLEX reactor design, which uses molten salt technology. Using the grant, MoltexFLEX will work with the University of Manchester’s Nuclear Graphite Research Group (NGRG) to investigate how the FLEX reactor’s molten salt coolant interacts with graphite, which is used as a moderator.

MoltexFLEX and NGRG scientists will employ the state-of-the-art facilities available in the university’s irradiated materials laboratory. They will make use of x-ray computed tomography (XCT) and hard x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) to examine the graphite and its response to molten salt exposure in minute detail.

The award is part of the Industrial Collaboration Programme (ICP), a Royce initiative that seeks to boost research, development and innovation activities across the UK. The ICP is part of a £5.6m Royce initiative for collaborative, business-led research, development and innovation projects aimed at accelerating progress towards a sustainable future.

The Henry Royce Institute is the UK’s national institute for advanced materials research and innovation, which operates from its hub at Manchester University. It is a Partnership of nine leading institutions – the universities of Cambridge, Imperial College London, Liverpool, Leeds, Oxford, Sheffield, the National Nuclear Laboratory, and the UK Atomic Energy Authority. Royce coordinates over £300m of facilities, providing a framework that can deliver beyond the current capabilities of individual partners or research teams. It is funded by the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council, part of UK Research & Innovation.

The funding for MoltexFLEX will be used for characterisation to help qualify industrial-grade graphite for applications in advanced molten salt nuclear technologies. MoltexFLEX is investigating the possibility of using standard industrial-grade graphite as part of the company’s policy to use readily available, off-the-shelf components and solutions.

The research will use industrial-grade synthetic graphite that has high thermal and chemical resistance. MoltexFLEX says it will deliver significant cost savings for the FLEX reactor, as well as enabling it to be rolled out worldwide more rapidly. “With clean capacity needing to be installed at a rate of 1 GW per day, if we are to hit our 2050 targets, the challenge is immense,” the company notes. MoltexFLEX plans to have its first reactor operational by 2029.

David Landon, CEO of MoltexFLEX says graphite is a significant component of the reactor cost. “The success of this research in demonstrating the viability of industrial-grade graphite will contribute to MoltexFLEX’s mission to deliver affordable nuclear power for all.”

MoltexFLEX has been working with NGRG on graphite-related topics since 2020. The NGRG team, headed by Professor Abbie Jones, has extensive expertise in graphite research. Leading the project for MoltexFLEX is Dr Chris Morgans, who has 20 years of experience working in academia and industry as a researcher and strategic project manager in the field of materials science.

The University of Manchester’s Professor of Nuclear Graphite Engineering Abbie Jones, Research Area Lead for Nuclear Materials with Royce, said: “This partnership will utilise world-leading facilities at the Henry Royce Institute to validate innovative new technologies developed by MoltexFLEX for potential use in their novel reactor design. She added that the project “will establish a strong working relationship that can move forward onto larger-scale nuclear research”.

Image: Cutaway of the FLEX reactor (courtesy of MoltexFLEX)