February 4, 2023

Microfluidic Uranium Microspheres Production for TRISO and Advanced Fuel Concepts


The purpose of this project was to expand existing internal gelation sol-gel capabilities at PNNL to explore producing uranium dioxide spheres for potential use as fuel kernels in next generation Tri-isotropic (TRISO) particle fuel. This project expands on previous sol-gel efforts at PNNL by (1) increasing the size regime of sphere production from the micro-fluidic range to the milli-fluidic range, and (2) producing uranium spheres. The approach involved first scaling up the channel size of the fluidic system to the millimeter range, with radiation safety considerations in mind; testing and demonstration on non-radioactive surrogate material, cerium oxide; then transitioning to uranium production and finally optimizing system parameters. Commercially available fluidic chips in the desired size range were could not be found, therefore the project designed and fabricated a T-junction with 1mm channels for droplet production. Because the production process is temperature sensitive, prior efforts have involved performing droplet production in a lab freezer. To reduce radiological waste and footprint, two alternative chilling methods were explored using aluminum thermal beads as a chill bath and a custom aluminum block fit to reagent reservoir sizes. Both were successful in the cerium tests, however the aluminum block design outperformed the thermal bead bath and was further adapted for the radiological test and production run in the Radiochemical Processing Laboratory (RPL). Gelation trials were performed to determine an acceptable range of feed solution parameters for the uranium dioxide gels, characterized by R-values, which is determined by the ratio of uranium nitrate to Hexamethylenetetramine (HMTA)/urea in the feed solution. R-values ranging from 1.6-2 were examined in the gelation trials, with only the 1.8 condition being tested in production. The project was successful in demonstrating a proof of concept design for producing uranium dioxide spheres, however further optimization is needed to dial in production parameters and improve sphere quality and homogeneity.

Published: February 4, 2023


Padilla Cintron C., B.N. Robertson, J.A. Katalenich, S.I. Sinkov, R. Guerrero, and A. Schafer Medina. 2022. Microfluidic Uranium Microspheres Production for TRISO and Advanced Fuel Concepts Richland, WA: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

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