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By-products of Nuclear Fusion Research: Tungsten-Enhanced Steel Pipes

Research in extreme areas such as nuclear fusion often leads to unexpected discoveries with broad application potential. In this edition of our EUROfusion Engage Newsletter, we would like to introduce another innovative material combination that originally emerged as a by-product at the Research Center in Jülich (Forschungszentrum Jülich). The image depicts the transformation of a stainless-steel tube before (left) and after (right) use in our chemical processing facility: The right tube is almost completely filled with pure tungsten. In addition to its potential application in the field of nuclear fusion, this transformation also holds particularly promising opportunities for use in CSP technology (Concentrated Solar Power). Here, liquid salts, known for their corrosive properties, play a central role as a heat transfer medium. The tungsten lining within the steel tubes would be inert to most of these liquid salts, potentially improving the durability and reliability of CSP systems. On the other hand, stainless steel protects tungsten from oxidation at elevated temperatures and allows for the manufacturing of more complex structures. Tungsten tubes are already industrially available, but only in simple forms. Through the use of chemical vapor deposition (CVD), nearly any geometry of various structural materials can be coated or filled with tungsten, effectively leveraging the outstanding chemical and thermal resistance of tungsten, while mitigating adverse properties of pure tungsten through suitable structural materials.

Image of a standard stainless-steel pipe (left) and the same pipe almost completely filled with tungsten. Image taken by Christoph Kawan, Forschungszentrum Jülich
Alexander Lau, Doctoral researcher IEK, Materials and Components, Institut für Energie- und Klimaforschung, Forschungszentrum Juelich GmbH, picture courtesy of Alexander Lau.
Alexander Lau, Doctoral researcher IEK, Materials and Components, Institut für Energie- und Klimaforschung, Forschungszentrum Juelich GmbH. Picture courtesy of Alexander Lau.

“I personally envision this material combination as the future industrial standard for transporting liquid salts. The chemical reaction between the precursors is well understood, making the product simple to manufacture, easy to scale, and applicable across a broad range of industries. This material combination simply has no disadvantages.”

– Alexander Lau

Find Alexander Lau on LinkedIn and Twitter: @LauAlexander164.


Join us in this exciting journey as we uncover the intricacies and innovations of nuclear fusion. Share your thoughts in the comment section below, engage in the discussion, and be a part of shaping our energy future!

2 Responses

  1. Thank you for your good question! In CSP systems, extreme temperatures and harsh conditions are common, familiar to these in a nuclear fusion reactor. Materials need to withstand corrosion, cyclic heat loads, and mechanical stress. The combination of stainless steel and tungsten offers a unique advantage in this context.

    Stainless steel provides corrosion resistance and structural support, shielding the tungsten from oxygen and environmental degradation. Meanwhile, tungsten’s high melting point, thermal conductivity and resistance to most corrosive liquid salts theoretically enhances the overall durability and heat management within the CSP-system.

    This symbiotic relationship should ensure the longevity and performance of components in CSP applications, making the SS/W combination particularly beneficial. Additionally, it needs to be highlighted, that even complex shapes of such components can be manufactured with low effort and moderate costs. CSP is just one potential application field. Any application field where steel faces it’s limits (e.g. when it reacts with fluids or the temperatures are too high), this interesting material combination should allow a broader application.

    If you have any further questions or need more clarification, feel free to ask!

  2. Alexander
    Hello – just reading your article and trying to understand what appears to be a dual benefit where the stainless steel tube protects the tungsten whilst the tungsten is also protecting the stainless steel. Do I have this correct ?
    And is most beneficial application would be in a CSP situation ? Is this correct ?
    If so, could you please explain why the SS/W combination is so beneficial in CSP situation
    Thank you

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