DOE awards safe, clean energy project to Ozark IC

Ozark IC to use its high-temperature technology for a health monitoring instrument for next-generation nuclear reactors

FAYETTEVILLE, ARKANSAS February 2022 – Ozark Integrated Circuits, Inc. (Ozark IC), a Fayetteville-based leader in rugged electronics, recently earned a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. The final one-year contract is still in negotiations and is expected to be nearly $200,000.

Ozark IC will use its high-temperature technology to develop a high-temperature health-monitoring instrument that measures the state of molten salts used in molten-salt cooled nuclear reactors (MSRs). Molten salts are used in next-generation nuclear reactors to transfer heat from the reacting fuel or to have nuclear fuel dissolved within the salty fluid itself – thereby providing safe, clean energy.

“The opportunity to use our technology to help meet the demand for the safe, clean energy provided by MSRs is both exciting and extremely gratifying” said Dr. Matt Francis, Ozark IC’s Founder and President. 

Ozark IC’s specific task involves manufacturing a non-reactive probe using silicon carbide (SiC) and gold materials, which has a proven temperature cycling durability from 500°C to 800°C (930⁰F to 1500⁰F). Ozark IC will also manufacture the analog front-end for the measurement instrument.

The project is in conjunction with University of Wisconsin - Madison College of Engineering (UW-M) in Madison, Wisconsin. UW-M will perform measurements to confirm the feasibility of the instrument.

“The high temperature technology that Ozark IC brings to MSR development is unique and greatly needed. We are looking forward to testing their MSR health-monitoring instrument,” said Dr. Mark Anderson, Director of the University of Wisconsin's Thermal Hydraulics Laboratory and the UW-Tantalus facility in Stoughton Wisconsin. “It should provide extremely important capabilities for MSR development and safety.”

Francis said he and his team are looking forward to the collaboration. “We are looking forward to this project and working with DOE and the University of Wisconsin," he said.

Molten salt reactors (MSRs) are considered safer than conventional reactors because they operate with fuel already in a molten state, and in event of an emergency, the fuel mixture is designed to drain from the core where it will solidify, preventing the type of nuclear meltdown and associated hydrogen explosions that are at risk in conventional (solid-fuel) reactors[1]. Continuous healthy operation of an MSR heat-exchange loop requires monitoring of the molten salt as it ages and oxidizes. Monitoring of these salts, which can reach temperatures of 500⁰C to 700⁰C, is used to predict when maintenance and/or replacement will be needed.

MSRs have received great interest from the DOE and significant investments have been made in several companies to develop MSRs in the US and around the world. There have already been more than three billion federal dollars promised to advance efforts to develop smaller, more flexible nuclear reactor designs.

This grant is one of 82 Department of Energy grants totaling $100 million to 68 small businesses in 24 states, including projects relating to wind turbine and wind farms, improved battery electrolytes, solar generation of hydrogen, and upcycling of carbon dioxide, along with a wide range of other efforts.

“Supporting small businesses will ensure we are tapping into all of America’s talent to develop clean energy technologies that will help us tackle the climate crisis,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “DOE’s investments will enable these economic engines to optimize and commercialize their breakthroughs, while developing the next generation of climate leaders and helping to build a sustainable future to benefit all Americans.”

Through the SBIR/STTR program across the federal government, small business powers the U.S. economy and generates thousands of jobs, both directly and indirectly, the DOE notes. DOE Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) awards aim at transforming DOE-supported science and technology breakthroughs into viable products and services. The awards also support the development of specialized technologies and instruments that aid in scientific discovery.

About Ozark Integrated Circuits Inc.

Ozark Integrated Circuits, Inc (Fayetteville, AR) was founded in 2011. Ozark IC’s mission is to bring the internet of things to everywhere it isn’t; anywhere hot, cold or in extreme vibration/radiation.  Ozark IC brings computing to the edge in the extreme conditions experienced in Energy Exploration, Aerospace, Space Exploration and Industrial Controls. Ozark IC’s solutions include hardware and software, integrated circuits, and packaging. Ozark IC’s strategy and technology have led industry watchers to recognize Ozark IC as a disruptive player in the rugged electronics marketplace.

About University of Wisconsin – Madison’s Thermal Hydraulics Laboratory.

The Thermal Hydraulics laboratory at the University of Wisconsin Madison was started in 2009 by Professor Anderson to focus on the advancement of Energy production efficiency and sustainability.  Throughout this time the UW-Madison THL has developed significant experience working with high temperature fluids, such as a variety of liquid salt and liquid sodium as heat transfer fluids as well as high pressure systems. The THL has also developed and tested significant innovative components and sensors for use with these fluids.