Collaboration underway between the National Composites Centre and the UK Atomic Energy Authority to develop fusion-grade Silicon Carbide Ceramic Matrix Composites

26 April 2023

The National Composites Centre is pleased to announce that it will be supporting the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) on the HASTE-F programme, sharing knowledge and expertise in the application of Silicon Carbide Ceramic Matrix Composites (SiC/SiC) in future fusion power reactors. 

Funded by the Royce Materials Challenge Accelerator Programme (MCAP) and led by UKAEA, HASTE-F is focused on addressing key engineering challenges in the use of silicon carbide composites (SiC/SiC) as a fusion material. Working with UKAEA, the NCC have identified a step change in SiC/SiC manufacturing that has the potential to transform the fusion sector, developing an efficient, scalable and cost-effective manufacturing route for ‘fusion-grade’ SiC materials.   

Dr. James Wade-Zhu, Senior Materials Engineer, UK Atomic Energy Authority, said: “Silicon carbide composites have the potential to enhance fusion by enabling reactors to operate at higher temperatures for improved thermal efficiency, greatly increasing the commercial viability of fusion energy production. We are pleased to be working closely with the National Composite Centre to address concerns around the scalability, formability, and performance of current SiC/SiC grades, bringing about the generation of new UK IP in the process.” 

SiC/SiCs are damage tolerant materials which exhibit excellent radiation resistance and have operating temperatures of up to 1600  ̊C. They are ideal candidate materials to withstand the extreme environments within a fusion reactor. The materials also exhibit low density, delivering advantages over traditional metallic materials. 

Compared with advanced steel designs, SiC/SiC components used in fusion reactors have the potential to double the electricity generated from every gigawatt of thermal energy produced. This significant increase in efficiency of future fusion reactors could save the UK £billions in reduced energy costs, and by reducing the number of reactors required to meet demand.  

The collaboration between UKAEA and the NCC has resulted in a significant process innovation that reduces the cost of manufacturing to one fifth of what can currently be achieved whilst shortening cycle times. Haste-F also increases design freedom for fusion components by enabling more complex shapes and thicker sections than can be made via current manufacturing methods. These advances will allow engineers to access all the advantages of SiC/SiC at a far lower price point. The NCC is pioneering the industrialisation of UK SiC/SiC design, modelling, manufacturing and technology capabilities that will feed into the fusion industry, making it more scalable, accessible and cost effective. 

Virtudes Rubio, Principal Engineer, National Composites Centre, said. “The National Composites Centre is accelerating net-zero energy generation by developing high value composites for extreme environments such as fusion reactors. This could unlock high-volume, high-performance SiC/SiC to the UK, driving a major transformation in sectors that utilise high-temperature CMCs, such as nuclear, defence, space and aerospace.” 

Fusion energy will play an important role in delivering long term UK energy security, with the STEP (Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production) programme aiming to construct the first grid-connected reactor by 2040. The NCC is proud that HASTE-F is contributing real-world solutions to make SiC/SiC composites a viable and cost-effective technology in commercial fusion power production. 

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