Contribution to the Production and Characterization of W-Y, W-Y2O3 and W-TiC Materials for Fusion Reactors

This PhD Thesis work was aimed at investigating the potentiality of tungsten-base materials as structural materials for the future thermonuclear fusion reactors in attempting to develop reduced activation tungsten-base materials with high strength and sufficient ductility, especially in terms of fracture toughness and ductile-to-brittle transition temperature, on the basis of the following ideas: (1) nano-grained materials are expected to show an improved ductility with respect to normal grain-sized materials, and (2) nano-grained materials and materials reinforced with either oxide or carbide particles are expected to show improved strength and radiation resistance, as (i) the particles should act as obstacles for the propagation of mobile dislocations, (ii) the numerous grain boundaries and interfaces between the matrix and the particles should act as sinks for the irradiation-induced defects, and (iii) the particles should also help stabilizing the numerous grain boundaries upon thermal annealing and/or irradiation. A variety of W-base materials, namely W-(0.3-1.0-2.0)Y2O3, W-(0.3-1.0-2.0)Y and W-(0.3-0.9-1.7)TiC materials (in weight percent), have been successfully produced at the laboratory scale by powder metallurgy techniques including mechanical alloying followed by either cold pressing and sintering or hot isostatic pressing (HIPping). X-ray diffractometry and scanning and transmission electron microscopy observations combined with density and microhardness measurements as well as with tensile, Charpy impact, fracture toughness and non-standard three point bending tests allowed the identification of optimal chemical compositions and manufacturing conditions, among those investigated and on the basis of the experimental devices at disposal. Microscopic investigations showed that the materials produced at the laboratory scale are composed of small grains, with sizes between a few tens and a few hundreds nanometers, and contain a high density of small Y2O3 or TiC particles, with sizes between 1 and 50 nm. In the case of W-Y materials, all the Y transformed into Y2O3 during mechanical alloying, due to the high amount of O (around 1 wt.%) present in the milled powders, which is beneficial for reducing the excess O content in the materials. All materials also contain a residual porosity of a few percents, which is typical of materials compacted by HIPping. Macroscopic investigations showed that the HIPped materials exhibit high strength values and a promising resistance to irradiation but poor fracture properties up to a very high temperature of about 1100 °C, due mostly to air contamination of the mechanically alloyed powders and to residual porosity of the compacted materials. The materials produced entirely at the laboratory scale by mechanical alloying and HIPping are of better quality than a W-2Y material that was produced by mechanical alloying at the laboratory scale and compacted by sintering and forging at the Plansee company (Austria). Further studies should focus on reducing the O content in the mechanically alloyed powders and the residual porosity of the compacted materials. The grain size should be also optimized as well as the size distribution, number density and crystallographic features of the oxide and carbide particles.

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