Synthesis of Boron Carbide Reinforced Aluminum Castings Through Mechanical Stir Casting

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Nuclear energy is the leading clean energy source in the United States with 99 nuclear power plants generating approximately 20% of the country’s electricity. While the growth of the industry helps to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, there is also an increase in nuclear waste. The demand for on-site dry cask spent nuclear fuel storage has increased due to complications with the Yucca Mountain Project and diminishing pool capacity. A novel dry cask consisting of an aluminum metal matrix for effective thermal conductivity with boron carbide as a neutron absorbing additive was investigated using gravity sand casting techniques. X-ray diffraction, Raman spectroscopy, scanning electron microscopy, energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy, and optical microscopy were used to characterize the resultant microstructure, including boron carbide incorporation and heterogeneity. Results indicate vortex and nonvortex mixing in air with boron carbide (1–10 µm diameter) produces large amounts of porosity and insufficient wetting. Use of a larger particle size distribution of boron carbide (20–60 µm diameter) during high speed vortex mixing prior to casting has shown significant dispersion of up to 12 wt% sufficient for neutron shielding with appropriate wall thickness. These results validate the use of gravity sand casting as a means to produce borated aluminum for an effective alternative to fuel storage.