Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

U-M part of new national Nuclear Energy Innovation Hub

The university has been named part of an energy hub using advanced capabilities of the world’s most powerful computers to make significant leaps forward in nuclear reactor design and engineering.

Nine engineering faculty members will lead U-M’s part of the Nuclear Energy Modeling and Simulation Energy Innovation Hub announced by the U.S. Department of Energy. The team, consisting of members from universities, industry and national labs, is led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) for an award of up to $122 million over five years.

U-M will receive up to $8.5 million — $1.7 million a year for five years — for its work in the Consortium for Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors (CASL).

“The Nuclear Energy Innovation Hub is a critical element in our efforts to re-establish American leadership in nuclear energy research and development,” says Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman. “We need to rev up the great American innovation machine to find solutions to our energy challenges and promote American competitiveness. With the Hubs, we are taking a page from America’s great industrial laboratories in their heyday and building creative, highly integrated research teams that can accomplish more, faster, than researchers working separately.”

The CASL will use powerful supercomputing to simulate how materials age in the harsh environment of a nuclear core. This will allow engineers to better assess how long a reactor can safely operate or determine what changes can be made to allow the reactor to run longer.

Bill Martin, chair of the Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Science, led the U-M portion of the initiative. He says years of collaboration with the nuclear industry have yielded real plant data that will enable predictions of this work that can be compared with actual results in the plant.

The CASL also has a strong educational component, Martin says. There are internships and course development for undergraduate and graduate students, as well as assignments for postdoctoral students and outreach activities for practicing engineers.

The Nuclear Energy Innovation Hub is one of three hubs that will receive funding in fiscal year 2010. The hubs are large, multidisciplinary, highly collaborative teams of scientists and engineers working over a longer time frame to achieve a specific high-priority goal, like developing fuels from sunlight in an economical way and making buildings more energy efficient.

The CASL will be located at the ORNL site near Oak Ridge, Tenn. In addition to ORNL and U-M, members of the team are: Electric Power Research Institute, Idaho National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, North Carolina State University, Sandia National Laboratories and Tennessee Valley Authority.

U-M’s team includes Martin, Tom Downar, Ed Larsen and Gary Was, professors of nuclear engineering and radiological science; Anton Van der Ven and Katsuyo Thornton, assistant professors of materials science and engineering; Michael Thouless, professor of mechanical engineering; Wei Lu, associated professor of mechanical engineering; and Krzysztof Fidkowski, assistant professor of aerospace engineering.

Dennis Assanis, director of the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute and a professor of mechanical engineering, is on the CASL board of directors.

“The University of Michigan is delighted to be a charter partner of CASL,” Assanis says. “This is an unprecedented national lab-university-industry partnership with a remarkable set of assets. Building on the partners’ long history of collaborations, this e-hub concept is bringing everybody together under a virtual one-roof to forge a powerful, interdisciplinary and interdependent team that is mission-driven — develop a high fidelity virtual reactor and apply it to address critical cost, life and safety goals for nuclear power.”