16:10 PM

Pitt Nuclear Engineering Awarded $1.6 Million in Research Funding from U.S. DOE

The award, part of $61 million in DOE funding, will focus on the Swanson School's strengths in Fuel Cycle R&D


Image: Simulated acoustic waves propagating along nuclear waste dry cask storage canisters for a 50kHz acoustic excitation guided wave signal. On the left hand side is a defect free canister while the right hand side shows unique acoustic signatures associated with internal defects that can be monitored and detected through a combination of fiber optic sensing, acoustic NDE, and physics guided machine learning and artificial intelligence classification methods without penetrating the container. (Pengdi Zhang)


Interdisciplinary researchers at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering are recipients of $1.6 million in advanced nuclear energy R&D funding from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The investment announced this week is part of more than $61 million in funding awards for 99 advanced nuclear energy technology projects in 30 states and a U.S. territory, $58 million of which is awarded to U.S. universities. According to DOE, the projects focus on nuclear energy research, cross-discipline technology development, and nuclear reactor infrastructure to bolster the resiliency and use of America’s largest domestic source of carbon-free energy.

The Swanson School’s funding is through the DOE Nuclear Energy University Program, which seeks to maintain U.S. leadership in nuclear research by providing top science and engineering faculty and their students with opportunities to develop innovative technologies and solutions for civil nuclear capabilities. 

“Pittsburgh is the global nexus of peacetime nuclear energy history and research, and we are proud to contribute to its continued success,” noted Brian Gleeson, the Swanson School’s Harry S. Tack Professor and Department Chair of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science. “Our faculty and students have a strong foundation in modeling and simulation, materials, sensing technologies, and non-destructive evaluation of critical reactor components, and so we are thankful to DOE and NEUP for supporting our research.”

The Pitt awards in the Fuel Cycle Research and Development category include:

Fragmentation and Thermal Energy Transport of Chromia-doped Fuels Under Transient Conditions

PI: Heng Ban, the Richard K. Mellon Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, Associate Dean for Strategic Initiatives, and Director of the Stephen R. Tritch Nuclear Engineering Program, Swanson School of Engineering

Collaborators: Jie Lian, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Liping Cao and Yun Long, Westinghouse Electric Company

  • This project will focus on multiple aspects of experimental testing and engineering-scale modeling in understanding thermal energy transport from high burnup, fractured/fragmented accident tolerant fuels, establishing a strong scientific basis to fill a critical knowledge data gap for modeling and simulation of transient fuel performance and safety, such as loss of coolant accident, for future integral testing and fuel licensing.

Fusion of Distributed Fiber Optics, Acoustic NDE, and Physics-Based AI for Spent Fuel Monitoring

PI: Paul Ohodnicki, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, Swanson School of Engineering

Collaborators: Kevin Chen, the Paul E. Lego Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Swanson School of Engineering; Ryan Meyer, Kayte Denslow, and Glenn Grant, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL); and Gary Cannell, Fluor Corporation

  • The proposal will leverage new concepts in the fusion between fiber optic distributed acoustic sensing and advanced acoustic nondestructive evaluation techniques with artificial intelligence enhanced classification frameworks to quantitatively characterize the state of dry cask storage containers for spent fuel monitoring, externally and non-invasively, without introducing additional risks of failure.

Additionally, Daniel G. Cole, associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science, Swanson School of Engineering, is a collaborator with Shanbin Shi, assistant professor of mechanical aerospace and nuclear engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, on a $800,000 award to investigate the thermal and electric power dispatch and required control algorithms for dynamic heat dispatch of up to 50 percent of the thermal energy from a Boiling Water Reactor (BWR) plant to a hydrogen plant.

“Nuclear power is critical to America’s clean energy future and we are committed to making it a more accessible, affordable and resilient energy solution for communities across the country,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “At DOE we’re not only investing in the country’s current nuclear fleet, but we’re also investing in the scientists and engineers who are developing and deploying the next generation of advanced nuclear technologies that will slash the amount of carbon pollution, create good-paying energy jobs, and realize our carbon-free goals.”

The DOE’s announcement stated, “Nuclear power provides a fifth of America’s overall electricity and more than half of our zero-emissions energy, making it a key part of our clean energy future. To realize nuclear’s full potential, more research and development is needed to ensure the creation and operation of cost-effective nuclear power and to establish new methods for securely transporting, storing and disposing of spent nuclear fuel waste. It will also help to meet the Biden-Harris Administration’s ambitious goals of 100% clean electricity by 2035, and net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.”


Paul Ohodnicki, PhD
Why is this research critical?

"There is no permanent waste storage facility in the US since the Yucca Mountain site project was discontinued, and so these dry cask storage facilities play a critical role in enabling safe nuclear energy generation and utilization."
Paul Ohodnicki, PhD