TurboTime Podcast: Micro-Reactors with Rolls-Royce

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In this episode of the TurboTime podcast, James Montgomery and John Mason of Rolls-Royce talk about micro-reactors.

In this episode of the TurboTime podcast, James Montgomery and John Mason of Rolls-Royce talk about micro-reactors. Microreactors are compact, portable rectors that produce thermal energy, which can be used as heat or converted to electric power. Micro-reactors can be quickly deployed and installed, and when they utilize a responsive design concept, they can prevent overheating and require fewer components, fewer operators, and less maintenance.

Montgomery is the Chief Design Engineer for the Rolls-Royce novel nuclear team in the United Kingdom. He is responsible for the design of the overall micro-reactor plant. Mason is a Systems Design and Integration Technical Specialist working within the Novel Concepts team in Bristol within Future Programs. His responsibilities are around the power-conversion system that goes with micro-reactors—i.e., the turbomachinery that takes heat from the reactor and converts it into usable electrical power.

“Micro-reactors are very small scale, in the range of 1 MW - 10 MW electrical, and that’s compared to a typical grid-supplying power plant that's in the gigawatt range and also with the new generation of small modular reactors that are in the 1/2 GW range, so we're much smaller than that,” Montgomery explained. “We have two potential applications for the microtechnology we're working on in the United Kingdom: The first one is the terrestrial variant for supplying power to different applications on Earth; and the second is the space micro-reactor that has potential applications for the lunar base as part of the space program and, in the longer term, for power and propulsion applications on satellite and deep-space missions.”

Montgomery also explained the process of designing a micro-reactor: “At Rolls Royce, we have a great pedigree in designing complex systems like this, so the first step in that process is to work with potential end users to understand the user requirements and use cases where we can get value from the technology. Then we'll work through the process of preliminary design and size of the plant, understanding what the technology can do and where the technology gaps might be. That then launches us into a technology program to acquire the technologies we need.

“The microreactor plant is really interesting from that point of view because it's genuinely a new product for us at Rolls-Royce as with the rest of the industry,” Montgomery continued. “So, we've pieced together some of our pedigree from the nuclear side and the turbomachinery side that we have developed over many years for aerospace and industrial applications.”