Graphene breakthrough could massively cut nuclear energy costs
9 May 2017
Manchester University researchers are claiming a breakthrough that could reduce the CO2 emissions associated with heavy water production in nuclear power plants by as much as 1 million tonnes annually.
Marcelo Lozada-Hidalgo’s team says that using graphene in the process has the potential to lower energy costs of heavy water production and decontamination by more than 100 times when compared to existing technology.
The research fellow said: “This is a crucial milestone in the path to taking this revolutionary technology to industrial application.
“The potential gains are high enough to justify its introduction even in the highly conservative nuclear industry.”
Graphene’s unique material properties mean it can separate sub-atomic particles to make the process of producing heavy water for clean energy more efficient and thus ensure nuclear power production is much cheaper.
This technology can economically transform the environmental footprint of future nuclear plants
Andrei Geim, professor of condensed matter physics, University of Manchester
The separation of hydrogen isotopes essential to the process is expensive – the energy required to produce just 1kg of heavy water is sufficient to power an average US family home for one year.
Last year the Manchester group established that graphene could sieve hydrogen isotopes. However, there were no membranes or fabrication methods available to develop fully scalable manufacturing.
Since then, the team has developed prototype membranes and demonstrated their efficiency in pilot studies. Its high efficiency separation permits a substantial reduction of the amount of raw isotope mixture required.
The considerable gains made in heavy water production energy savings are expected to be outstripped by those resulting from the decontamination of tritium isotopes present in heavy water-moderated reactors.
Andre Geim, the Nobel Prize winner and professor of condensed matter physics at Manchester, remarked: “Tritium discharged both from nuclear power plants and as a result of environmental disasters is a major global concern.
“We believe this technology can economically transform the environmental footprint of future nuclear plants.”