Department Energy, Materials and Systems

Research topic: Energy, Materials and Systems

Research group: Faculty of Science & Technology/Energy, Materials and Systems (EMS)
People involved:
prof. Marcel ter Brake, dr. Marc Dhallé
Contact: :

EMS uses its internationally recognized experience and infrastructure in the field of applied superconductivity and cryogenics to develop technologies, materials and systems that will play a key role in our future energy chains. This active R&D program offers numerous topics in which motivated SET students may contribute in the form of a graduation project:

1.Superconducting magnets for fusion reactors

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Nuclear fusion may well solve many of our energy needs with abundant, inexpensive and relatively clean electricity. While the global research community is building the experimental ITER reactor, the future prototype machine DEMO is already on the drawing board. To confine the hot plasma, these reactors critically depend on superconducting magnets. In a long-running and internationally-oriented program, EMS contributes strongly to their development.

2.Superconducting generators for wind turbines

Just when the EU drastically wants to expand the share of offshore wind in electricity generation, the price of rare-earth magnets in present generators has sky-rocketed. The ensuing drive for a technology change-over brings superconducting machines into the picture. It looks like not only they will do the job less expensively, their high power density also leads to smaller and lighter generators. In collaboration with Delft University, EMS is helping to develop reliable machines.

3.Magnetic storage of electrical power

Description: Description: Toroid

Distributed electricity generation and smart-grid technology lead to an increasing need of electricity storage. Many solutions are available, each with its merits and draw-backs. Also here superconductors can be used: high current density and zero resistivity lead to a combined high energy density/high power level, but also to high efficiency. Fast and efficiently charging/discharging magnets can be used in large SMES systems, while superconducting levitation of friction-less flywheels is ~ 100 times more powerful than Cu-based magnetic bearings. 

4.Advanced materials for storage of cryogenic energy carriers

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Natural gas and hydrogen are increasingly substituting for other fossil fuels. Both can be stored with high energy density in the liquid phase, typically at temperatures of resp. 110 K and 20 K. The materials of the tanks are subject to range of stringent mechanical, thermal and chemical requirements. Simultaneously fulfilling such a broad spectrum of condition calls for custom-made composite materials. The metal-fiber laminates (MFL) used in aerospace combine low mass with excellent strength, but fail below – 40 oC because of thermal stresses. In cooperation with Production Technology (prof. Remko Akkerman), EMS is therefore conceiving, developing and testing cryogen-compatible MFL.

5.Energy recovery in LNG re-gasification

Natural gas is often transported in its higher-density liquid phase and stored in huge tanks (200.000 m3) at atmospheric pressure and a temperature of -160 oC. In the distribution grid, however, it has to be a gas at a much higher pressure (80 bar). For this, the LNG is first compressed cryogenically (80 bar, -150 oC) and then evaporated and heated above 0 OC. At present, this is done by feeding it through a heat exchanger flushed with enormous quantities of sea water. This process fully wastes the energy that was invested for liquefying the gas (roughly 1 MJ/kg). In cooperation with Thermal Engineering (prof. Theo van der Meer), our research aims to use waste heat from industry to warm up the LNG via a heat-engine cycle, so that part of the liquefaction energy is recovered.

6.Thermal properties of nano-fluids

With present commercial coolant technologies reaching their limits, the performance of cooling and climate control systems is inherently limited by the thermal properties of the coolant fluid used for heat transfer. Innovative and more efficient cooling technologies and processes are now required to support technological development in a range of European industries such as transport, data centres, telecommunications and power generation. Nanofluids comprising of smaller nano-scale particles suspended in a fluid have been shown to have encouraging thermal properties. In this project we investigate the thermal performance of nanofluids and their translation into enhanced heat sinks.