Purdue students commercialize device that could convert nuclear waste into electricity

December 3, 2014  

Atlas energy

Ian Hamilton, a Purdue University senior in materials engineering, and Josh Auger, a Purdue senior in mechanical engineering, test a prototype that could convert nuclear waste into electricity. The students founded a company called Atlas Energy Systems LLC to commercialize their innovation. (Photo by Hillary Henry/Purdue Research Foundation)
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Repositories around the world are filled with around one million barrels of nuclear waste that can take up to 240,000 years to decay, according to the U.S Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Purdue University students Josh Auger, Ian Hamilton and Kyle Harris, and Purdue alumnus Kyle Pendergast have developed a device that could potentially turn this waste into electricity. The students created a company called Atlas Energy Systems LLC to further develop and commercialize the device invented by Hamilton. Professors Robert Bean and Allen Garner in the Purdue School of Nuclear Engineering serve as advisers for the students.

Hamilton said radiation sources, such as spent nuclear fuel, enter the device, which ionizes a gas to convert the radiation energy into electricity.

"Our technology would be able to use the byproduct of nuclear waste and generate more electricity from it," he said. "Also, this is a safe way to eliminate this waste because it has the potential to be dangerous as it continually releases harmful radioactive particles before it reaches its stable state."

Auger said the device's advantages include its safety, longevity and independence.

"Our system converts kinetic energy into electrical energy via gaseous ionization, while conventional processes use heat, including those resulting in the Fukushima and Chernobyl accidents," he said. "There is no need for maintenance, unlike other systems. Once it's in place and ready the device will start to convert energy into usable power. Another difference is that as long as the radiation runs, the device will be able to work. The isotope we are looking at now will run about the half-life, which is 28.8 years, compared to five years for current systems."

Hamilton is a senior in the Purdue School of Materials Engineering and Auger is a senior in the School of Mechanical Engineering. Harris is a senior in the Krannert School of Management and Pendergast is an alumnus of the College of Engineering.

Atlas Energy Systems is receiving assistance through the Purdue Foundry, an entrepreneurship and commercialization hub in Discovery Park's Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship.

"The Foundry has helped us with our availability and accountability. Being able to discuss ideas keeps things in perspective of what needs to be done and what the next milestones are," Auger said.

Hamilton and Auger also received assistance through the Purdue Artisan and Fabrication Laboratory to build the prototype of their product. The laboratory, located in the Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering, provides students, faculty and staff with hands-on access to a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility to build and test prototypes.

Atlas Energy Systems participated in the 2014 Burton D. Morgan Business Plan Competition and placed second, receiving $10,000 in funding. It also received funding from the Agricultural Innovation Business Plan Competition in Wisconsin.

About Purdue Foundry

The Purdue Foundry is an entrepreneurship and commercialization hub in Discovery Park's Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship whose professionals help Purdue innovators create startups. The Purdue Foundry is managed by the Purdue Research Foundation, which received the 2014 Incubator Network of the Year by the National Business Incubation Association for its work in entrepreneurship. For more information about funding and investment opportunities in startups based on a Purdue innovation, contact the Purdue Foundry at foundry@prf.org

About Atlas Energy Systems LLC

Atlas Energy Systems is a research and development company focused on converting nuclear energy into usable power in a novel way. The objective of Atlas is to develop a device that uses residual energy from spent nuclear fuel and recycle it into electricity. 

Writer: Hillary Henry, 765-588-3586, HKHenry@prf.org 

Purdue Research Foundation contact: Cynthia Sequin, 765-588-3340, casequin@prf.org 

Sources: Josh Auger, 260-446-7007, josh.auger@atlasenergysystems.org

 Ian Hamilton, 260-466-2301, ian.hamilton@atlasenergysystems.org 

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