LUBBOCK, Texas (NEWS RELEASE) – Texas Tech University professors Hongxing Jiang and Jingyu Lin received a $1.79 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) as part of $175 million awarded to 68 research projects for novel clean energy technologies.
Jiang, a Horn Distinguished Professor, co-director of the Center for Nanophotonics and the Edward E. Whitacre Jr. endowed Chair in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering, housed within the Edward E. Whitacre Jr. College of Engineering, is the principal investigator on the project along with Lin, a Horn Distinguished Professor, the Linda Whitacre Endowed Chair of Electrical & Computer Engineering and co-director of the Center for Nanophotonics.
Jiang and Lin already have achieved a breakthrough by developing hexagonal boron nitride (BN) semiconductor thermal neutron detectors with a record efficiency of 59%. They now will develop BN neutron detectors for energies up to tens of mega-electron volts.
“We are really glad to have this opportunity to work on this important energy-related project,” Jiang said. “Semiconductor neutron detectors have many advantages when compared with the current technology of gas detectors.”
BN neutron detectors present unique advantages, including compact size, high gamma rejection ratio, low voltage operation, and low fabrication and maintenance costs. These neutron detectors can operate in high temperatures and harsh environments and simultaneously detect thermal and fast neutrons. The BN neutron detectors could be installed on the perimeter or in the core of a nuclear reactor to monitor reactor and fuel status directly.
“It was ARPA-E’s support which made the initial development of BN semiconductor thermal neutron detectors with a record efficiency of 59% possible,” Lin said. “We greatly appreciate ARPA-E’s support to further develop the BN ultra-wide bandgap semiconductor technology at Texas Tech.”
The technology also has the potential to replace the multiple Helium-3 gas tube-based neutron detectors currently deployed in geothermal and well logging tools.
“Universities, companies and our national labs are doubling down on advancing clean energy technology innovation and manufacturing in America to deliver critical energy solutions from renewables from electric vehicles to fusion energy to tackle the climate crisis,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “DOE’s investments show our commitment to empowering innovators to develop bold plans to help America achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, create clean energy good-paying jobs and strengthen our energy independence.”
The BN neutron detector’s unprecedented performance at a reduced cost could also create new applications in nuclear energy, national security, nuclear waste monitoring and management, the health care industry and material sciences.
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