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The Future of Advanced Nuclear Power

Hydrogen Tank_060522A
[Hydrogen Tank - US Department of Energy]

 

- A CO2-neutral Global Economy

Decarbonisation is the process of reducing the amount of carbon, mainly carbon dioxide (CO2), sent into the atmosphere. Its objective is to achieve a low-emission global economy to attain climate neutrality via the energy transition. Nuclear energy is an important tool in the fight against climate change, and it's starting to become more versatile than you might think. 

Decarbonisation to create a CO2-neutral global economy requires decarbonizing all sectors that today rely heavily on fossil fuels. These include heating, industrial processes that require combustion and transport, especially heavy duty, sea and air transport. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), nuclear energy generates about 10% of the world's electricity and is the world's second-largest low-carbon energy source after hydropower. Nuclear energy can also be used to decarbonize non-electricity applications. 

In addition to powering homes and businesses, commercial reactors serve a variety of applications. They can also be used to power desalination plants, provide heat for metal refining, and even generate hydrogen as a clean-burning alternative fuel for vehicles. 

Here are three surprising ways that industry can use nuclear energy to further decarbonize our society.

 

- Nuclear Desalination

Advances in sewage treatment systems, desalination and wastewater treatment plants have significantly improved public health. Still, one-fifth of the world's population faces water scarcity. Demand for freshwater continues to grow due to population growth and the impact of climate change on arid and semi-arid regions. 

In the United States, drinking water and wastewater treatment plants account for about 2% of energy use, and it is estimated that by 2040, desalination projects will account for 20% of water-related energy needs.
Desalination plants around the world produce fresh water from seawater through distillation. These processes require energy in the form of heat to remove the salt from the brine, making it drinkable. However, desalination plants are often powered by carbon-emitting heat sources such as fossil fuels. 

Dozens of U.S. nuclear energy companies are currently developing advanced carbon-free reactor systems that can be installed almost anywhere in the world and that, when paired with desalination plants, can produce both water and electricity.


- Clean Hydrogen Production

Hydrogen is a key component of the energy system of the future and can be emitted with little to no emissions through technologies such as nuclear power. 

Currently, about 95% of the hydrogen produced in the United States comes from natural gas. It is produced through a process called steam methane reforming, which emits about 830 million tons of carbon dioxide annually. 

Nuclear power plants can be used to produce clean hydrogen to produce ammonia and nitrogen for fertilizers. Hydrogen can also be used to make steel or to develop synthetic fuels for cargo ships to drastically reduce their carbon footprint. 

To help scale up clean hydrogen production, the U.S. Department of Energy is supporting four hydrogen demonstration projects at U.S. nuclear power plants. The projects are part of DOE's Hydrogen Shot goal, which aims to reduce the cost of hydrogen to $1 per kilogram within a decade, and could also open up new markets for the nuclear industry.

 

-- Industrial Process Heating

Process heat is the energy in the form of heat used primarily by the industrial sector for processes such as drying, manufacturing, refining, heating and cooling. 

It is estimated that industrial process heating applications account for about one-third of the nation's energy consumption and the majority of annual direct industrial carbon dioxide emissions. Currently, most of the process heat in the industrial sector comes from fossil fuel combustion. 

Heat drives many industrial processes, from steam electrolysis to melting iron and other scrap to make steel. Nuclear energy is a carbon-free alternative to power industrial facilities and provide clean, reliable and constant high-temperature heat. 

Nuclear power plants generate heat through a process called fission, which is used to generate steam that spins turbines to generate electricity. Nuclear reactors convert one-third of heat into electricity. The remaining heat is released to the environment and can be used to meet process heat requirements.

 

 

 

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