The United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) and the University of Sheffield have entered a partnership intended to spur the development of fusion technology and support the UK’s future fusion industry. Sheffield will appoint two Chairs in fusion research & development, each of which will establish new research programmes to address global fusion challenges.
A Chair in Qualification for Fusion will address fundamental engineering challenges in the qualification of components, fabricated assemblies and systems required by future fusion powerplants. A Chair in Fusion Materials will focus on innovation in materials design and processing to improve powerplant performance and the decommissioning and recycling of new materials.
The University’s Faculty of Engineering will host the two Chairs. Both will work closely with UKAEA staff and the University of Sheffield Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (Nuclear AMRC) in Rotherham. This is part of the UK’s High Value Manufacturing Catapult, which helps to transfer cutting-edge research from universities to the commercial market.
UKAEA says it has chosen to work with Sheffield University because of its expertise and strong track record in materials science, engineering and manufacturing research, which are crucial for developing new low-carbon technologies. UKAEA will also collaborate with the University’s research in thermal hydraulics, which is a key research area for the development of fusion as an energy source.
UKAEA Director of Materials Research Dr Amanda Quadling said the University of Sheffield Department of Materials Science & Engineering has a combination of process innovation capabilities, metals performance testing and high calibre microscopy skills that will complement UKAEA’s post-irradiation activities. “This partnership will help to address intrinsic engineering and materials challenges in order to make fusion energy commercially viable,” she noted. “It will also develop a pipeline of talent for the future of our thriving fusion industry.”
Professor Jim Litster, Vice-President for Engineering at the University of Sheffield, said developing strong external partnerships is a key part of our Faculty of Engineering’s strategy. “With the University, UKAEA’s Fusion Technology Facility in Rotherham and the STEP prototype fusion powerplant site at West Burton, Nottinghamshire, all in relatively close proximity to one another, the partnership will develop a strong regional focus on fusion excellence in South Yorkshire and surrounding regions.”
The two Chairs are expected to attract collaborations from a wider range of industrial partners who will be able to sponsor students and work in partnership with them on research projects. Stephen Wheeler, Director of Fusion Technology, UKAEA, explained that the challenge of how to test and qualify components for future use in a fusion environment is critical for the delivery of a fusion powerplant. “Partnering with the University of Sheffield to launch a new Chair in this field will accelerate the application of cutting-edge techniques from across all sectors of engineering and the development of new experimental and digital techniques specific to fusion.”
Charles Carpenter, Chief Technology Officer at the Nuclear AMRC, said: "Fusion power will be an essential part of the UK's long-term energy future, but turning the science into commercial reality presents huge challenges to researchers, engineers and manufacturers. This new partnership will help UKAEA to draw on the University of Sheffield's research excellence in engineering and materials, and its world-leading centres for advanced manufacturing innovation and industrial collaboration.”
Image: Representatives from the UKAEA and University of Sheffield at UKAEA's facility in Rotherham (courtesy of Sheffield University/UKAEA)