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BYU awarded $800k grant to fund research in clean energy

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The $800k grant will be used to continue research on the effects molten salt reactors may have on clean energy initiatives

Three BYU professors from the Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering are taking big steps toward clean energy with the help of a grant from the Department of Energy.

Drs. Stella Nickerson, Matthew Memmott, and Troy Munro received a grant supporting molten salt reactor research for nearly $800,000 in August of 2019 from the Department of Energy’s Nuclear Energy University Program.

The use of molten salt reactors (MSRs) over conventional reactors not only reduces nuclear reaction waste, but improves safety as well.

“Before MSR’s can be designed and licensed, engineers need to know the physical properties of molten salts,” said Nickerson. In order to combat high research expenses, the group has applied a method that uses quantum mechanics to predict interactions between salt atoms. While the method is well-established, there is little published research in which it is used in the study of molten salts.

While this method does require powerful computers to solve complex mathematical equations, it does not include high-cost factors such as sensitive samples, health and safety precautions, or intense heat. Using these calculations, they are able to identify material properties that are essential to the development of molten salt reactors.

Working together since 2015, the three BYU researchers recognize that while their computations are accurate in theory and simulation, they still need to be tested and validated.

“That’s why we’re so fortunate to have two collaborators here at BYU with the expertise needed to support our work,” said Nickerson. Thanks to Drs. Memmott and Munro, the group was able to develop techniques to effectively test high temperature salt measurements.

Their strategy involves the use of carefully chosen salt compositions and temperatures. After their model has been refined and validated, the simulation will be used to predict and analyze properties from a wide range of conditions that may be presented within a nuclear reactor.

With this grant, Nickerson, Munro, and Memmott will continue their research with MSRs, ultimately working toward clean energy and safer conditions under the operation of nuclear reactors. Nickerson spoke for the group saying, “we’re excited to do our part to contribute to the development of this important technology.”