Technical papers

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Nanofuel internal engine

Mark L. Adams

28 May 2015

This paper presents an inventive nanofuel internal engine, whereby nuclear energy is released in the working fluid and directly converted into useful work, with the qualities of an economical advanced small modular gaseous pulsed thermal reactor.

Scientific feasibility is established by studying the behavior of nuclear fuels in configurations designed to support a fission chain reaction. Nanofuel is defined as nuclear fuel suitable for use in an internal engine, comprised of six essential ingredients, and can be created from clean fuel or from the transuranic elements found in light-water reactor spent nuclear fuel in a proliferation resistant manner. Three essential ingredients ensure the nanofuel is inherently stable, due to a negative temperature coefficient of reactivity. Reciprocating and Wankel (rotary) internal engine configurations, which operate in an Otto cycle, are adapted to support a fission chain reaction. Dynamic engine cores experience a decrease in criticality as the engine piston or rotor moves away from the top dead center position. In this inherent safety feature, the increase in engine core volume decreases the nanofuel density and increases the neutron leakage.

Technological feasibility is demonstrated by examining potential engineering limitations. The nanofuel internal engine can be operated in two modes: spark-ignition with an external neutron source such as a fusion neutron generator; and compression-ignition with an internal neutron source. The structural integrity can be maintained using standard internal-combustion engine design and operation practices. The fuel system can be operated in a closed thermodynamic cycle, which allows for complete fuel utilization, continuous refueling, and easy fission product extraction.

Nanofuel engine power plant configurations offer favorable economic, safety, and waste management attributes when compared to existing power generation technology. The initial (first-of-a-kind) overnight capital cost is approximately $400 per kilowatt-electric. Obvious safety features include an underground installation, autonomous operation, and an ultra-low nuclear material inventory.