Hot salt, clean energy: How artificial intelligence can enhance advanced nuclear reactors

Scientists are searching for new materials to advance the next generation of nuclear power plants. In a recent study, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory showed how artificial intelligence could help pinpoint the right types of molten salts, a key component for advanced nuclear reactors.

The ability to absorb and store heat makes molten salt important to clean energy and national climate goals. Molten salts can serve as both coolant and fuel in nuclear power reactors that generate electricity without emitting greenhouse gases. They can also store large amounts of energy, which is increasingly needed on an electric grid with fluctuating sources such as wind and solar power.

If you heated the salt on your kitchen table up to 801 C (1,474 F), it would melt, and you’d have molten salt. However, for making and storing energy, not just any salt will do. Scientists are exploring different combinations of salts to get the exact properties needed to cool and fuel a nuclear power reactor efficiently for decades. These properties include lower melting temperatures, the right consistency, and the ability to absorb high amounts of heat, among others.

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