An artist's impression of UKAEA's STEP prototype fusion powerplant in West Burton, Nottinghamshire

UK Atomic Energy Authority and the University of Sheffield to drive the development of Fusion technology.

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

  • The partnership between the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) and the University of Sheffield is set to drive the development of fusion technology and the UK’s future fusion industry
  • The research collaboration will tackle the fundamental engineering challenges around future fusion powerplants
  • The collaboration will appoint two UK Chairs in fusion technology and materials at Sheffield and build on UKAEA’s existing facilities to make the region a center of excellence in fusion R&D
  • The partnership will help make fusion energy commercially viable and develop a pipeline of talent for the UK’s fusion industry.

March 9, 2023 – The collaboration, announced today, will see Sheffield appoint two Chairs in fusion research and development. Both roles will establish new research programs to address global fusion challenges.

The position of Chair in Qualification for Fusion will address fundamental engineering challenges in the qualification of components, fabricated assemblies, and systems for use within future fusion powerplants.

The position of Chair in Fusion Materials will focus on innovation in materials design and processing to improve powerplant performance and the decommissioning and recycling of new materials developed.

Both Chairs will work closely with UKAEA staff and the University of Sheffield Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (Nuclear AMRC) in Rotherham, part of the UK’s High-Value Manufacturing Catapult, which helps to move cutting-edge research from universities into the commercial market.

The University’s Departments of Materials Science and Engineering and Mechanical Engineering will host the two 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.

UK Atomic Energy Authority and University of Sheffield to drive the development of Fusion technology
Representatives from the UKAEA and the University of Sheffield at UKAEA’s facility in Rotherham

As part of the partnership, 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. The partnership is the next step in the University supporting the development of the UK’s energy solutions for the future.

“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.”

Dr Amanda Quadling, Director of Materials Research at UKAEA, 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.”

Professor Jim Litster, Vice-President for Engineering at the University of Sheffield, said:

It is expected the two positions will 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.

”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.

“The 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.”

Stephen Wheeler, Director of Fusion Technology, UKAEA, 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.”

Charles Carpenter, Chief Technology Officer at the Nuclear AMRC, said:

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

Fusion is the process that occurs at the center of stars; it is the source of light and heat emitted by the Sun.

Finance invested in fusion energy enables new materials and technologies to be developed that can benefit not just fusion energy, but also a wide range of industries including space, healthcare, and decommissioning.

UKAEA’s mission is to lead the delivery of sustainable fusion energy and maximize scientific and economic benefits.

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