The sCO2-4-NPP european project aims to develop an innovative technology based on supercritical CO2 (sCO2) for heat removal to improve the safety of current and future nuclear power plants.
The heat removal from the reactor core will be achieved with multiple highly compact self-propellant, self-launching, and self-sustaining cooling system modules, powered by a sCO2 Brayton cycle.
Heat exchangers are one of the key components required for advanced Brayton cycles using supercritical CO2. Fives Cryo company, a brazed plates and fins heat exchangers manufacturer, with its expertise in thermal and hydraulic design and brazing fabrication is developing compact, and highly efficient stainless steel heat exchanger solution for sCO2 power cycles, thanks to their heat exchange capability with low pinch and high available flow sections.
The aim of the development of this specific heat exchanger technology is to achieve an elevated degree of regeneration. For this matter, plates and fins heat exchanger is a very interesting solution to meet the desired thermal duty with low pressure drop leading to a reduction in size and capital cost. The enhancement of the mechanical integrity of plates and fins heat exchanger equipment would lead to compete with, and even outweigh, printed circuit heat exchangers technology, classically used for sCO2 Brayton cycles.
sCO2 cycle conditions expose heat exchangers to severe conditions. Base material selection is essential, and for cost reasons, it is important to keep affordable heat-resistant austenitic stainless steel grades, much cheaper than a nickel-based alloy. Another advantage of high compactness of plates and fins heat exchangers is the diminution of the amount of material used in the heat exchanger manufacturing, decreasing even more its cost.
The challenge here is to qualify stainless steel plates and fins heat exchangers mechanical resistance, at cycle operating conditions, and meet with pressure vessels codes and regulations according to nuclear requirements.
One critical point in the development of the heat exchangers is the design of the fins. As secondary surface, they allow the maximization of heat transfer at low pressure drop. At the same time mechanical strength has to be guaranteed. To withstand high pressure, fins thickness has to be significant, which makes the implementation complicated. Efforts were dedicated to successfully obtain an optimal shape. Forming of fins was therefore improved compared to conventional techniques. Important work was undertaken to define industrial settings to flatten the top of the fins leading to a maximum contact between the brazing alloy and the fins. Consequently brazed joints quantity is minimized inducing a diminution of the presence of eutectic phase, which is structurally brittle and limits the mechanical strength of the construction.
A metallurgical study brings other elements leading to the prevention of premature rupture of the brazed structure. The idea is to determine an optimized solidification path and to identify a temperature range and holding time where the brazed joint is almost free of eutectic phase during the assembly process in the vacuum furnace.