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PhD studentship in Novel High Temperature Zirconium Alloys for Nuclear Fusion

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

A 3-year UK/EU PhD studentship is available in the group of Dr Sandy Knowles within the School of Metallurgy and Materials at the University of Birmingham, with a stipend of at least £14,777 per year (industrial top up of ~£2000 expected). This project is linked to Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE), who will provide industrial steer.

Dr Knowles’ research group seeks game-changing new materials for the extreme environments of nuclear fusion/fission reactors as well as aerospace gas turbines. This involves the design of new alloys; production through arc melting, powder metallurgy or additive manufacturing/3D printing; characterisation using electron microscopy and x-ray diffraction; mechanical testing using macro/micro-mechanical methods and failure investigation.

Nuclear fusion offers the tantalising prospect of large-scale low carbon energy with no long-lived radioactive waste. Over 50 years of worldwide research to overcome the significant technological challenges is culminating in the ITER experiment [1], under construction in Cadarache France to be completed ~2025. In this, 50 MW of input heating is anticipated to output 500 MW of fusion power from a 150 million°C plasma sustained for up to 1,000 seconds, which will experimentally demonstrate the underlying physics of fusion.

However, many engineering challenges remain on the path to commercial fusion power. Particularly the ‘breeding’ of the fusion fuel, tritium (3H), by neutrons (n), utilising: 6Li + n -> 3H + 4He. This requires that the material(s) selected for the tritium breeder blanket allow passage of neutrons from the fusion core to undergo the breeding reaction, i.e. low neutron absorbance.
Zr alloys are widely used in fission due to their low neutron absorption cross-section, oxidation/corrosion resistance in water and retention of mechanical properties following irradiation [2]. Preliminary studies of Zr alloys for fusion indicate a positive tritium breeding ratio [3] owing to Zr’s neutron multiplication and low cross-section, alongside suitable mechanical properties at 350°C [4]. However, the structural components of the breeder blanket are expected to operate well above 350°C, meaning that improved materials alloys are needed.

This project will develop novel Zr alloys with 500-600°C capability. This improved capability will be achieved by alloying to promote nano-scale reinforcing phases, to confer particle strengthening as well as grain boundary pinning, for creep resistance. Additions of Si, Al and Cr additions will promote intermetallics for improved strength, but also for corrosion and oxidation resistance in the event of a loss of coolant/vacuum accident. This research builds from the group’s previous work on Ti [5], and ‘high entropy alloys’ [6] that are a highly topical new materials research area [7]. Performance of alloys will be determined by high temperature compression, tensile and creep testing, three-point bend with digital image correlation, small punch testing, ion irradiation studies, and hydrogen uptake experiments, linked to groups at CCFE (STEP, MTL, MRF, H3AT).

The candidate will have a 1st/2:1 class Undergraduate/ Masters degree in Materials Science, Nuclear Engineering, or related discipline. A background in characterisation and/or mechanical testing would be advantageous.
Applications will open Dec 2019, please provide:
(1) A cover letter summarising your research interests and suitability for the position,
(2) The contact details of two people able to provide a reference letter,
(3) A curriculum vitae.
Please send your full application to Dr Sandy Knowles a.j.knowles[at]

Funding Notes

A 3-year UK/EU PhD studentship is available with a stipend of at least £14,777 per year (industrial top up of ~£2000 expected). The candidate will have a 1st/2:1 class Undergraduate/ Masters degree in Materials Science, Nuclear Engineering, or related discipline.



How good is research at University of Birmingham in Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Metallurgy and Materials?
Metallurgy and Materials

FTE Category A staff submitted: 29.10

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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