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The ITER fusion reactor needs super-strong steel to withstand its fiery hot temperatures. Fortunately, an American national laboratory has developed just such a steel, and has made it affordable as well.  (Source: ITER)
New steel from Oak Ridge National Laboratory is cheaper and stronger than past steel, likely to be used in ITER fusion reactor

DailyTech last month reported that Great Britain was working on  super steels.  These ultra-strong steels would be made possible by preventing irregularities in steel, which weaken its internal magnetics, making it more susceptible to heat.

Now it appears that the Americans have beaten the Brits to the punch, unveiling their own completed super steel.  The new steel was developed at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the U.S. ITER Project Office, which is housed at ORNL.  The ORNL was recently in the news for inventing a new titanium manufacturing technique.

With its new cast stainless steel, it continued its successes. The new steel is approximately 70 percent stronger than comparable steels and could be a boon to the fusion industry.  Its material parameters are being evaluated carefully, as it is being considered for use in shielding ITER's fusion device.

ITER is a multibillion-dollar international research and development project which is accessing the viability of creating a commercial fusion reactor.

The new steel will need to be ultra strong at high temperatures.  One key goal of the project is to develop self-burning plasmas.  Hundreds of tons of shielding will be needed to block heat and radiation from this plasma.  The shielding, primarily composed of super steel, will be close to the plasma, which will be heated to 100 million degrees.  While the shielding itself won't be this hot, it will get more than a little toasty.

ITER is being built at Cadarache, France.  The United States, China, the European Union, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea and the Russian Federation are all contributing components.  The reactor will be of a tokamak design -- a torus of hot plasma contained by a magnetic field.  The device is expected to produce around 500 MW of fusion power when functioning.

Jeremy Busby of the ORNL Materials Science and Technology Division says designing steel to withstand the extremes of the reactor is a difficult challenge.  He states, "The United States must produce nearly 100 of these modules that are 3-4 tons each and include geometric shapes and openings."

The holes drilled in the steel will weaken it and will result in the loss of 30 percent of the material.  While casting the shape would be more economical and efficient, cast steel traditionally is much weaker.  However, thanks to recent breakthroughs the researchers are beginning to get the problem under control.

Explains Mr. Busby, "We're working to improve the materials' properties to reduce the amount of machining and welding and allow for better performance.  The use of casting can have potential value engineering benefits resulting in cost savings on the order of 20 to 40 percent as compared to machining, so this could be a fairly significant economic issue, both for ITER and in other future uses."

Mike Hechler, USIPO manager of Blanket Shielding and Port Limiter systems, initially approached Mr. Bosby and his team with the request that they design super-steel shielding for the reactor.  Mr. Bosby adds, "He talked with us because of ORNL's materials science expertise.  He was familiar with our industry work and hopeful that we could help provide a solution."

Eighteen months later, the work is almost finished.

In order to strengthen the steel, scientists focused on fracture properties, tensile strength, microstructure properties, welds, impact properties, corrosion performance and radiation resistance.  Through carefully controlled attempts using different casting techniques and varying the composition slightly, his team was able to almost double many key strength properties.

Now Mr. Bosby and his team have to await the final word from ITER on whether the material has passed its standards.  He states, "We expect to hear fairly soon about how our cast stainless steel may be used in this groundbreaking project."



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RE: Great...
By snownpaint on 10/28/2008 11:43:55 AM , Rating: 3
The world would change forever.. This would be bigger then electricity, E-MC2, the Spoon, or A/C (refrigeration). This changes national power struggles, changes world economics, changes energy production (gas, oil, hydro, wind, tidal), and transportation.. Cheap, abundant, Clean, electricity is what the world needs (if it could handle it). That and uncorrupted people to spread it, offer it, and use it to make the world a better place.

But that won't happen, if I learned anything living this life, people are greedy, self-centered, and control hungry; especially ones interested in politics or finance. Which the reactor will touch both, heavily.

On a final note, This new steel is just the first of many great inventions to make this reactor work. So much will come from these steps to reach the next by the time the reactor is ready, the world will hopefully be in a better, stronger place.. (like Velcro, Freeze dried food, and super fabrics /alloys from the Space missions:>)


RE: Great...
By FITCamaro on 10/28/2008 12:26:44 PM , Rating: 1
It would change commercial power generation. But we can't exactly stick a fusion reactor into our cars. And even if we could, I wouldn't want us to.

Why do people assume that just because we can produce cheap, clean electricity that it would completely eliminate the need for gas? We can already produce cheap, clean energy safely with nuclear power. Still using gas. Oil wouldn't go anywhere as oil is barely used in the production of electricity.


RE: Great...
By Gzus666 on 10/28/2008 12:46:16 PM , Rating: 2
Well, with electric cars coming and progressing pretty well, by the time this is viable we will most likely be in an electric car world.


RE: Great...
By snownpaint on 10/28/2008 2:39:05 PM , Rating: 3
If you could fill your battery up for $0.03 to go 40- 60 miles, that makes a world of difference, in oil consumption and the push for electric cars.

Would you invest in Solar or Wind or Hydro energy, if you can have more then your demand with fusion reactors, that are clean (make He2).

Even with power loss through transmission the loss would be acceptable compared to the amount produced, so power plants would be spread out.

Water production (desalination) becomes easy and cheap, growing 3rd world cities. Hydrogen becomes extremely cheap to manufacture. Metal production costs become cheap by lowering the cost of refinement and smelting.

Sure we will still use Oil for flying and plastics and areas where electricity can't be transmitted, but that consumption of oil would be soooooo much less. That would change the direction of most of the world. Coal (current power plant juice) wouldn't be used and those coal companies would dwindle down to a few. Oil would be cut, making low grade crude uneconomical to drill. Also enabling countries to pick where they want to get the smaller supply they need, changing the world economics (politics)

That is just the touch of the iceberg. what about public transportation in cities, concerns of power consumption are readjusted (appliances). Then there is the ability to heat your house for pennies, effecting the Natural Gas shipments and supply, and heating oil companies.

It would be way cheaper then nuclear, Uranium needs to mined, and refined, and nuclear waste stored all cost big bucks.. H2 or H3 is easy to make, find and the amount of energy fusion makes compared to fission is much much more..


RE: Great...
By FITCamaro on 10/29/2008 7:24:24 AM , Rating: 2
The problem with electric cars isn't the cost to charge the battery. It's how far the battery will take you. Until you can quick charge a battery in 5-10 minutes to 100% charge and then have it take you 300-400 miles, pure electric cars will not be able to replace gas. Pure electric cars right now are only useful as short range commuter cars. Unless we have a major revolution in battery technology, they're going to stay that way.


RE: Great...
By Tesseract on 10/29/2008 5:08:58 PM , Rating: 2
Remember the wireless power tech that intel demonstrated? It was on this site some time ago, cant remember when. But, link a clean efficient (and static) power source with something like that, and you've got yourself an electric car that doesn't need batteries.

Room temperature superconductors would be good too for batteries, providing they could be made (unlikely, but you never know), but I think they'd lose power because of the magnetic field they'd produce (and I wouldn't like my portable HDD being wiped by a car :P)


RE: Great...
By rcc on 10/28/2008 1:54:00 PM , Rating: 3
And the environmentalists would give birth to litters of kittens. The last thing they want is a cheap clean source of power.


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