University of Sheffield partners with UKAEA

By 9 March 2023 Nuclear AMRC news

The United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) and the University of Sheffield have entered a new partnership to drive the development of fusion technology and the UK’s future fusion industry.

The collaboration will see the University of Sheffield appoint two chairs in fusion research and development, and establish new research programmes to address global fusion challenges:

  • The Chair in Qualification for Fusion will address fundamental engineering challenges in the qualification of components, fabricated assemblies and systems for use within future fusion power plants.
  • The Chair in Fusion Materials will focus on innovation in materials design and processing to improve power plant performance and the decommissioning and recycling of new materials.

Both will work closely with UKAEA staff and the Nuclear AMRC, which is already collaborating with UKAEA on a range of projects to develop manufacturing technologies and supply chain capabilities for the fusion programme.

Charles Carpenter, Chief Technology Officer at the Nuclear AMRC, said: “Fusion power will be an essential part of the UK’s long-term energy future, but turning the science into commercial reality presents huge challenges to researchers, engineers and manufacturers. This new partnership will help UKAEA to draw on the University of Sheffield’s research excellence in engineering and materials, and its world-leading centres for advanced manufacturing innovation and industrial collaboration.

“We look forward to building on our current work with UKAEA to develop manufacturing techniques for the STEP prototype at West Burton, and to help UK manufacturers grow their capabilities and skills to win work in the rapidly developing fusion market.”

Concept image of the STEP fusion reactor

The University of Sheffield’s Faculty of Engineering will host the two new chairs. UKAEA has chosen to work with the University because of its expertise and strong track record in materials science, engineering and manufacturing research, which are crucial for developing new low-carbon technologies. UKAEA will also collaborate with the University’s UK-leading research in thermal hydraulics, a key research area in the development of fusion as an energy source.

Dr Amanda Quadling, Director of Materials Research at UKAEA, said: “We are pleased to partner with the University of Sheffield. Their Department of Materials Science and Engineering has a combination of process innovation capabilities, metals performance testing and high calibre microscopy skills which will complement our post-irradiation activities.

“This partnership will help to address intrinsic engineering and materials challenges in order to make fusion energy commercially viable. It will also develop a pipeline of talent for the future of our thriving fusion industry.”

Professor Jim Litster, Vice-President for Engineering at the University of Sheffield, said: “Here at Sheffield, we have a long track record of world-leading research excellence across materials science, advanced manufacturing, engineering, and low-carbon energy research. This is coupled with successful translation into industry and UK government policy.

“Developing strong external partnerships is a key part of our Faculty of Engineering’s strategy. With the University, UKAEA’s Fusion Technology Facility in Rotherham and the STEP prototype fusion powerplant site at West Burton, Nottinghamshire, all in relatively close proximity to one another, the partnership will develop a strong regional focus on fusion excellence in South Yorkshire and surrounding regions. Harnessing the research strength of northern universities, such as ours at Sheffield, is crucial if the UK is going to transition to low-carbon energy sources and protect its energy supply over the long-term.”

The two positions are expected to attract collaborations from a wider range of industrial partners who will be able to sponsor students and work in partnership with them on research projects.

UKAEA's Fusion Technology Facility in Rotherham

Stephen Wheeler, Director of Fusion Technology at UKAEA, said: “The challenge of how we test and qualify components for future use in a fusion environment is critical for the delivery of a fusion powerplant.  Partnering with the University of Sheffield to launch a new chair in this field will accelerate the application of cutting edge techniques from across all sectors of engineering and the development of new experimental and digital techniques specific to fusion.

“UKAEA’s Fusion Technology Facility based at the Advanced Manufacturing Park, South Yorkshire, is enabling us to access and grow regional capabilities to support the delivery of fusion. This includes local skills development from schools to universities and also the world class capabilities within the local manufacturing supply chain. We look forward to accessing the University of Sheffield’s expertise in engineering testing and qualification to enhance our national programme.”

Along with many other framework agreements with universities and industry partners, the agreement aims to bolster the UK’s strong position in commercialising fusion energy as a major source of low carbon electricity for the second half of this century.