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PhD Studentship: Application of Novel Ceramic Synthesis to the Development of Lithium-containing Fuels for Nuclear Fusion

University of Sheffield - Materials Science and Engineering

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Sheffield
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students
Funding amount: £15,009
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 3rd May 2019
Closes: 1st August 2019

Nuclear fusion is an attractive alternative to fission because it offers the potential for power generation without the production of greenhouse gases and long-lived radioactive waste. One of the greatest challenges in adopting fusion lies in developing materials that can withstand the extreme environment of a fusion reactor, where isotopes of hydrogen, deuterium and tritium, will fuse together, releasing enormous amounts of energy. It is proposed that tritium will be produced within the fusion reactor, in a region called the breeder blanket, with lithium-containing ceramics as candidates for the tritium breeder material.

Tritium extraction from the breeder is dependent on breeder material density, with optimum tritium recovery reported in samples with >90% of theoretical density. Lithium reacts with air and so it is difficult to produce dense ceramics using standard methods. Furthermore, nano-scale defects have been observed in Li-ceramics produced by standard methods, which could have serious implications for the suitability of these materials as a fuel for fusion.

At the University of Sheffield, we have developed novel low-temperature synthesis methods, which show great promise in producing dense, Li-ceramics. This project will explore the use of these methods to produce defect free, dense Li-ceramics for fusion. Once fabricated, the in-reactor performance of these materials will be determined using techniques that simulate experimentally the impact of the fusion environment on materials.

Sintering will be investigated via a number of routes in addition to traditional solid state, including emergent ceramic cold sintering and spark plasma sintering methods. Mechanical and thermal properties will be investigated using techniques such as micro-indentation and laser flash analysis, respectively. Once fabricated, dense ceramics will be irradiated with energetic ions using ion beam implantation to simulate the damage expected to be produced by fusion neutrons, including helium gas generation due to transmutation of lithium to tritium, producing helium in the process. Characterisation techniques such as X-ray diffraction, transmission and scanning electron microscopy, energy dispersive X-ray analysis and Raman spectroscopy will be central to the project, allowing full chemicophysical characterisation of the materials synthesised, and any radiation-induced structural modifications.

The project will be supervised by Dr Amy Gandy and Dr Rebecca Boston in the Materials Science and Engineering Department. The candidate will work within two highly successful groups within the department, the Immobilisation Science Laboratory and Functional Materials and Devices. The researcher will have access to world-class equipment through these laboratories, and through the forthcoming Royce Discovery Centre, which will house equipment vital to the project.

Results from this research will inform researchers developing the world’s fusion technologies, aiding the adoption of nuclear fusion power as a safe, sustainable source of energy. If this is of interest to you, then get in touch! 

This studentship will pay tuition fees in full and a stipend for living expenses for 3.5 years. This stipend will be at the RCUK minimum which for the 2019/20 academic year is £15,009pa.

Funding covers home tuition fees and annual maintenance payments of at least the Research Council minimum for eligible UK and EU applicants. EU nationals must have lived in the UK for 3 years prior to the start of the programme to be eligible for a full award (fees and stipend).

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