Student engineers create modular nuclear energy for disaster relief

Adrian Del Grosso (left) and Conrad Farnsworth (right) stand with their first fuel cask prototype in their lab space on the SDSM&T campus in Rapid City, SD.

Rapid City, South Dakota - Ten teams from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology are currently participating in a business accelerator program created by the Enterprise Institute and funded by the Blackstone Charitable Foundation. The teams are comprised of mix of students, faculty, and entrepreneurs-in-residence. The South Dakota Engineering Accelerator is focused on high-growth business creation and the commercialization of engineering-focused projects from the university system and the general public.

One team participating in the accelerator program, Farnsworth Downs Technology, is engineering portable, rugged power generators that are designed to serve a specific and potentially life-saving  purpose. “We're constructing small, modular nuclear reactors for disaster relief. These portable reactors can be used in everything from water desalination to setting up emergency power in the event of a disaster or grid failure,” team member Conrad explained. “We utilize the thorium fuel cycle which is cheaper, more abundant, and has less waste than a traditional uranium fuel cycle. This technology will drastically reduce the cost of power and water purification while reducing nuclear waste stockpiles, which it would use as fuel. Our reactors are also much safer than standard reactors."

A closer look a the first prototype created by Farnsworth Downs Technology. 

The team consists of four students: Conrad Farnsworth, Siouxsie Downs, Adrian Del Grosso, and Brandon Kidney. Stemming from a passion for nuclear reactors, the team has been working on the project for two years now. Their first fuel cask prototype has already been built, while the second is currently in the process of being machined on campus.

“We chose to participate in the accelerator because they offer an intimate level of help when it comes to boosting a business and its viability. The next business step for our project is funding procurement, so the grant writing aspect of the program has definitely been the most valuable thing we’ve learned in the accelerator so far,” said Conrad.

About the Enterprise Institute:

The Enterprise Institute began in 2001 when a group of business leaders and entrepreneurs decided to help identify and launch high-growth businesses in South Dakota. The mission of the Enterprise Institute is to encourage and assist the establishment of growth enterprises in the state. Since 2006, the nonprofit has organized and currently administers seven member managed angel investment funds in the state of South Dakota. To date, the funds include over 130 individual accredited investors and have raised over $7,500,000 to invest in startup companies in the state and region.

About the Blackstone Charitable Foundation:

The Blackstone Charitable Foundation was founded at the time of Blackstone’s IPO in 2007 with substantial commitments from the Firm’s employees. Influenced by the enterprising heritage of the firm and its founders, the Blackstone Charitable Foundation is directing its resources and applying the intellectual capital of the firm to foster entrepreneurship in areas nationwide and globally. Through its investment expertise across several asset classes and geographies, Blackstone has a unique perspective on the global economy and a heightened understanding of how entrepreneurial activity is often the crucial catalyst in the growth of successful businesses, industries, and communities.

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