USNC invests in Desktop Metal X-Series for next-generation nuclear fuel designs


The Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC) has adopted two 3D printers from Desktop Metal’s recently updated line of X-Series binder jetting systems.

The machines, capable of printing advanced materials like silicon carbide, will be key to facilitating the design of innovative fuels for use in a new generation of advanced nuclear reactors.

“Binder jetting is a reliable, low-cost, high-yield process for our complex mass production,” said Dr. Kurt Terrani, executive vice president of the USNC Core Division. “The advanced hardware capability of the X-Series machines is fundamental to our innovative approach to fuel design.”

USNC’s all-ceramic micro-encapsulated fuel innovation. Image via Desktop Metal.

USNC Adoption of Additive Manufacturing

USNC is a global leader in the development of microreactors and nuclear power technologies, and has demonstrated a growing commitment to 3D printing adoption since the start of the year.

In January, the company announced that it had licensed ORNL’s new method to 3D print components for nuclear reactors using silicon carbide and other refractory metals. The technology combines binder jetting 3D printing with a chemical vapor infiltration process that allows complex reactor components to be manufactured more efficiently than traditional methods.

Just last week, USNC revealed plans to locate its pilot fuel fabrication (PFM) operations at an 8.7-acre site near ORNL in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, in the aim to accelerate the development of advanced nuclear fuel solutions, including the use of 3D printing. The plant is expected to be operational this summer and will see USNC and ORNL continue to work closely together on commercializing ORNL’s additive manufacturing technology and establishing an advanced nuclear fuel supply chain.

Nuclear power is a form of “clean” power generation that is receiving increasing attention as an alternative to burning fossil fuels, and according to ORNL professors Kathy McCarthy and Xin Sun, printed nuclear components in 3D are already having an impact in this area. You can read more about 3D Printing Industry’s interview series on 3D printing and renewable energy here.

USNC has licensed ORNL's new <a class=additive manufacturing method to produce complex nuclear reactor components. Photo via Carlos Jones/ORNL.” class=”wp-image-202183″ data-lazy-srcset=” 600w,×167.jpg 200w,×417.jpg 500w” data-lazy-sizes=”(max-width: 600px) 100vw, 600px” data-lazy-src=””/>
USNC has licensed ORNL’s new additive manufacturing method to produce complex nuclear reactor components. Photo via Carlos Jones/ORNL.

Leverage Series X

At the end of 2021, Desktop Metal expanded its binder projection portfolio with the acquisition of ExOne for $575 million. As part of the acquisition, some of ExOne’s systems were rebranded as “X-Series”, namely its InnoventX, X25Pro and X160Pro.

The X-Series is powered by ExOne’s patented Triple ACT advanced compaction technology for dispensing, spreading and compacting powders during the binder jetting process. This binds a wide range of powders and allows the printer to process metals and ceramics, such as silicon carbide, for the manufacture of precision functional parts.

Silicon carbide is an engineered ceramic material with excellent environmental stability that is often used in aerospace, armor, plasma shield and high temperature applications.

USNC has adopted two X-Series systems to enhance its capabilities to transform nuclear silicon carbide into forms capable of safely surrounding a nuclear fuel particle, a key component of its innovative fully micro-encapsulated fuel technology. ceramic (FCM). The approach is being used to power USNC’s micromodular reactor (MMR) energy systems, which are known for their reliability and safety.

“Ultra Safe Nuclear is at the forefront of nuclear fuel and reactor design, pioneering new advances in safety and performance,” Terrani said. “Powering up a new generation of microreactors represents a watershed moment in carbon-free power generation in the United States and around the world.”

Explaining how the FCM and MMR systems work in tandem, Terrani added, “We created a design for a passively safe reactor, so you don’t need a concrete dome, an exclusion zone, or a large water tank because it is intrinsically safe. We use high temperature resistant fuel with multiple inherent barriers to radiation release at the center of our reactor system. This is the very essence of the ultra-safe nuclear approach.

InnoventX <a class=3D printer from Desktop Metal. Photo via Desktop Metal.” class=”wp-image-205831″ data-lazy-srcset=” 3657w,×576.png 1024w,×900.png 1600w,×864.png 1536w,×1152.png 2048w,×343.png 610w,×433.png 770w,×112.png 200w,×281.png 500w” data-lazy-sizes=”(max-width: 3657px) 100vw, 3657px” data-lazy-src=””/>
InnoventX 3D printer from Desktop Metal. Photo via Desktop Metal.

The small form factor InnoventX is already installed at USNC facilities in Salt Lake City, Utah, and the company is working to expand its next-generation nuclear fuel array on the larger X25Pro and X160Pro systems.

“There were a multitude of additive manufacturing methods, but a lot of them rely on a high-temperature process during deposition,” Terrani said. “With metals, they melt the particles to bond them together, but you can’t do that with the high melting point of silicon carbide. Binder jetting technology is unique because it really relies on the physical characteristics of power, and it is essentially very independent of the chemical structure and phase of the material.

“So we can select a very pure, highly crystalline carbide feedstock powder, nuclear-grade powder, and then form these really complex geometries, which just wasn’t possible before.”

In addition to the two new X-series systems, USNC will add two more machines later this year to further expand its nuclear fuel design capabilities.

“Fostering the mass adoption of additive manufacturing requires scalable systems capable of printing high-performance materials that enable the most innovative applications,” said Ric Fulop, co-founder and CEO of Desktop Metal.

“We are proud to support USNC’s mission with flexible binder jetting technology that takes customers all the way to production and helps play a role in solving problems globally with manufacturing solutions. additive.

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Featured image shows USNC’s all-ceramic micro-encapsulated fuel innovation. Photo via Desktop Metal.


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