Largest Nuclear Energy University Programs Grant Awarded to University of Idaho

Thursday, May 10 2012

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho – The United States Department of Energy Nuclear Energy University Programs (NEUP) awarded three new research and development projects to the University of Idaho. The $2.56 million total value of these projects is the largest amount awarded to any single institution. In addition, the University of Idaho was also awarded a three-year graduate fellowship.

A total of $47 million was awarded by NEUP for scholarships, fellowships, research grants and university research reactor upgrades to schools around the nation. The money will be used to train and educate the next generation of nuclear leaders. The idea behind the awards is to support nuclear research and development, as well as train and educate students at 46 colleges and universities around the country.

“The NEUP research grants awarded to the University of Idaho will support cutting edge research that will ensure the continued generation of safe and reliable nuclear energy. In addition, the awards show a continuing return on Idaho’s investment in the University of Idaho and the Center for Advanced Energy Studies,” said Robert Smith, associate vice president/CEO for University of Idaho-Idaho Falls Center and associate director for CAES.

The projects were awarded to three scientists at the University of Idaho-Idaho Falls Center. Akira Tokuhiro, Supathorn Phongikaroon and Vivek Utgikar are three of the best and brightest nuclear researchers in the world, and as part of the Center for Advanced Energy Studies are working with the Idaho National Laboratory and other Idaho universities on research, education and policy on a state, national and international level.

“This award means a lot not only to me, but to nuclear science, engineering and technology in the modern era, especially for the nuclear fuel reprocessing in collaboration with nuclear material proliferation and safeguards. Put in simple, it is vital for our future generation to understand the need in novel reprocessing and treatment of used nuclear fuel,” said Supathorn Phongikaroon, assistant professor of chemical and materials engineering and nuclear engineering program. “This award will give opportunities to my graduate students to explore and discover possible remedies of these concerns. I want people around me to feel that nuclear energy is safe, and it will be one of the leading directions of our way of living in the future.”

University of Idaho projects:

Supathorn Phongikaroon is the principal investigator on the project that aims to develop an applied technology to remotely measure and analyze the real-time or near real-time concentrations of used nuclear fuel dissolute in high temperature ionic liquid. Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS), which is an elemental analysis method based on the emission from plasma generated by focusing a laser beam into the medium, will be investigated. A success of this project will allow this novel technique to assess and apply to other nuclear fuel cycle processes to help reducing the risk of nuclear material proliferation and to develop safeguarding technology. Total award for project: $820,000

Akira Tokuhiro, principal investigator, and Milos Manic and Vivek Utgikar, co-principal investigators, will demonstrate use of an intelligent control system in a hybrid energy conversion system applicable to next generation nuclear power plants linked to other renewable energy sources (solar, wind) and varying loads. Hybrid energy systems are a method of optimizing the use of baseload power, such as nuclear, with renewable energy sources that produce energy only when the sun shines or the wind blows. A familiar hybrid system is the hybrid car. Hybrid systems present an opportunity to develop efficient and reliable energy sources for energy security. Total award for project: $877,000.

Vivek Utgikar is the principal investigator for the project that will assist in the development of intelligent control systems for next generation nuclear reactor systems. In addition to electrical power generation like the current fleet of nuclear reactors, the thermal energy (heat) from the advanced nuclear reactors will also be utilized directly in industrial chemical processes such as synthetic fuel production. The goal of the project is to develop mathematical equations that describe the steady state and transient behavior of the system composed of the nuclear reactor and intermediate heat exchanger transferring the heat to the chemical process. Control strategy based on these equations will be devised to maintain the operation and enhance the safety of the system. Total amount for project: $869,997.

In addition, U-Idaho’s Richard Skifton was awarded a $50,000 annual graduate fellowship for the next three years. Skifton, who is currently completing a Master of Science degree in mechanical engineering, will use the funds to support his doctoral studies at the University of Idaho.
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