The US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Nuclear Energy (NE) said on 13 April that the proposed Marvel microreactor project at Idaho National Laboratory (INL) will help researchers understand how advanced reactors could play a part in intelligent energy grids.

Several microreactor designs are currently under development in the USA that will be smaller in size, more flexible to operate and versatile enough to provide energy to end users for a variety of services ranging from electricity production to water purification, NE said.

To help accelerate the deployment of microreactors, DOE is building one of its own to help researchers and end users understand how microreactors can integrate with other technologies. The Microreactor Applications Research Validation and EvaLuation or Marvel project streamlines this research and development (R&D) process for industry partners and will provide a dedicated location for them to quickly test, develop, and demonstrate their technologies.

The Marvel design is a liquid-metal cooled microreactor with Stirling engines that will produce 100-kilowatts of energy using small amounts of high-assay, low-enriched uranium (HALEU) from available research materials. Its design is primarily based on existing technology and will be built using off-the-shelf components allowing for faster construction. The reactor will be built inside the Transient Reactor Test facility (TREAT) at INL and could be installed in less than a year.

By providing prompt, small-scale demonstrations, Marvel will offer experimental capabilities that are not currently available at DOE’s national laboratories. The test bed will perform R&D on the fundamental features, operations, and behaviours of microreactor technologies and help companies to demonstrate their designs.

Marvel plans to:

  • Streamline national lab capabilities by establishing the authorisation, qualification, and validation processes for microreactor technologies. Industry partners can connect their microreactor end-user applications to the system to test and demonstrate technology readiness.
  • Investigate diverse electrical and thermal applications of nuclear energy. Marvel will test and demonstrate the reactor system’s capability to manage grid demand and reactor power supply. This could support a range of applications such as integrated renewable energy systems, water purification, hydrogen production, and heat for industrial processes.
  • Evaluate autonomous technology to achieve optimal operation. This will support end-users in testing and validating specific reactor components for remote monitoring and autonomous control which includes sensors and instrumentation for live data collection. It will also demonstrate wireless transmission to a remote site and provide feedback that could predict unplanned maintenance.

The Marvel test platform is a collaborative effort between the DOE Microreactor Programme and the National Reactor Innovation Centre to bring innovative advanced reactor technologies to market. DOE plans to have Marvel operating within the next three years.