Abilene, Texas - The very basis for the modern world is energy. The availability of affordable, sustainable energy provides access to clean water, healthcare, communication, commerce and much more.
While traditional methods of generating power have built the world as we know it today, the pursuit of alternative forms of energy generation, continues to expand. The goal of this innovation is to deliver power that is inexpensive, safe, clean and available on demand.
Abilene Christian University’s Department of Engineering and Physics is widely recognized for developing notable undergraduates by involving them in world-renowned research alongside its distinguished faculty, and the "NEXT" initiative is no exception.
NEXT stands for "Nuclear Energy eXperimental Testing," and this research initiative by ACU aims to develop technology that will utilize a substance commonly found in soil across the globe for fuel. As this technology is developed, this substance could potentially generate power using methods that are safer and more efficient than current technology. A “molten salt loop” would provide the cooling mechanism for this technology.
Though similar technology has been in place since the 1960s, more research is needed to develop the instrumentation, equipment and salt mixtures required to fully implement the process. The primary focus for the NEXT Project’s efforts will be to develop a high-temperature molten salt loop for advanced testing that uses no fuel; no nuclear material will be used.
This energy generation technology has tremendous potential for addressing three of the world’s most critical needs: (1) Energy that is safer and less expensive; (2) pure and abundant water, which is generated during the process; and (3) medical isotope byproducts, which can be used to diagnose and treat cancer.
Currently, the initiative seeks to secure $300,000 in funding from the DCOA to complete the development of the test loop on the ACU campus. By partnering with ACU in this effort, the DCOA will be the spark that could ignite a surge of annual research funding into Abilene’s economy.
The research itself represents a potential to retain high value jobs in Abilene by providing the opportunity to raise millions of dollars in research funding from both the federal government and the private sector that would otherwise not be spent in Abilene. The research could also attract industry professionals from top institutions around the country, bringing notoriety and positively impacting the City of Abilene. In addition, NEXT representatives have met with representatives from Texas Tech University, and there appear to be strong possibilities for collaboration in this effort.
The personnel required for this project will include at least three new full-time positions, ongoing part-time student employee count of around 17, and part-time work from 10 faculty members. In total, the research plans to operate with 30 individuals.
ACU has committed $500,000 to support the $3 million total project cost with personnel, facilities, and administrative support (16.5%). Other private donors have already committed $589,000 in support of NEXT (19.6%). DCOA joined these funders when its board of directors approved an additional $300,000 in funding for the project (10%). The Legett and Kickapoo Springs Foundations have jointly committed to additional match funding of $600,000 (20%). In addition, ACU has applied for grants from the U.S. Department of Energy, and we are optimistic that they will be favorably received.