The United States is pursuing an aggressive plan to combat climate change and reach net-zero emissions by 2050. As the nation’s largest source of carbon-free power, nuclear can play an important role in this clean energy transition.
One of the biggest contributions in the near future could come from smaller, more compact reactors. Several microreactor designs are currently under development in the United States that will be smaller in size, more flexible to operate and versatile enough to provide energy to end users for a variety of services ranging from electricity production to water purification.
To help accelerate the deployment of microreactors, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is building one of its own to help researchers and end users understand how microreactors can integrate with other technologies. The Microreactor Applications Research Validation and EvaLuation or MARVEL project streamlines this research and development (R&D) process for industry partners and will provide a dedicated location for them to quickly test, develop, and demonstrate their technologies.
What is MARVEL?
The MARVEL design is a liquid-metal cooled microreactor with Stirling engines that will produce 100 kilowatts of energy using small amounts of high-assay, low-enriched uranium (HALEU) from available research materials. Its design is primarily based on existing technology and will be built using off-the-shelf components allowing for faster construction. The reactor will be built inside the Transient Reactor Test facility (TREAT) at Idaho National Laboratory and could be installed in less than a year.
Capabilities and Benefits
By providing prompt, small-scale demonstrations, MARVEL will offer experimental capabilities that are not currently available at DOE’s national laboratories. The test bed will perform R&D on the fundamental features, operations, and behaviors of microreactor technologies and help companies demonstrate their designs.
MARVEL plans to:
- Streamline national lab capabilities by establishing the authorization, qualification, and validation processes for microreactor technologies. Serving as a power hub, industry partners can connect their microreactor end-user applications to the system to test and demonstrate technology readiness.
- Investigate diverse electrical and thermal applications of nuclear energy. MARVEL will test and demonstrate the reactor system’s capability to manage grid demand and reactor power supply. This could support a range of applications such as integrated renewable energy systems, water purification, hydrogen production, and heat for industrial processes.
- Evaluate autonomous technology to achieve optimal operation. This will support end-users in testing and validating specific reactor components for remote monitoring and autonomous control which includes sensors and instrumentation for live data collection. It will also demonstrate wireless transmission to a remote site and provide feedback that could predict unplanned maintenance.
The MARVEL test platform is a collaborative effort between the DOE Microreactor Program and the National Reactor Innovation Center to bring innovative advanced reactor technologies to market. DOE plans to have the MARVEL microreactor operating within the next three years.