UK-based nuclear technology company newcleo has signed an agreement with Italy-based MAIRE subsidiaries NextChem Tech and Tecnimont to apply newcleo’s reactors to decarbonise the chemical industry, including hydrogen production. Newcleo said the agreement, which will power a new model for the “e-Factory for carbon-neutral Chemistry” launched by NextChem Tech, will enable the development, on an exclusive basis, of a conceptual study for carbon-neutral hydrogen production and sustainable chemicals using a combination of newcleo’s nuclear technology with MAIRE’s chemical technologies and expertise.

NextChem Tech’s specific know-how in the field of hydrogen solutions and chemicals at various industrial scales will be coupled with newcleo carbon-neutral, compact and competitive energy solution. This will enable the production of electrolytic hydrogen and sustainable chemicals, including carbon-neutral ammonia, methanol, e-fuels and derivatives, in line with the decision by the European Union to include innovative nuclear technologies, such as newcleo’s, in the EU Taxonomy of environmentally sustainable economic activities.

Tecnimont will provide consultancy services a power plant based on newcleo’s SMR LFR-AS-200 technology design, applying Tecnimont’s modularisation approach to optimise construction and planning methodology, reducing time and costs. “This will boost newcleo’s vision of a full modular, affordable and easy-to-deploy plant,” newcleo said.

In December newcleo said that it had been selected as part of the “Innovative Nuclear Reactors” call for projects under the “France 2030” investment plan and aims to commission a 30 MWe lead-cooled fast reactor (LFR 30) by 2030, as well as a pilot unit for the manufacture and multi-recycling of mixed oxide (mox) fuel for fast reactors. The project represents a total investment in France of €3bn ($3.3bn) between now and 2030. The company signed three strategic partnerships at the World Nuclear Exhibition in Paris with Assystem, Ingérop and Onet Technologies to develop its lead-cooled fast reactor and innovative fuel in France.

This followed a long line of acquisitions and agreements undertaken since the company was established in 2021. Newcleo initially announced its incorporation with the closing of a $118m initial capital raising and the acquisition of Hydromine Nuclear Energy. In June 2022, it closed a €300m equity raise and contracted France's Orano for feasibility studies on the establishment of a mox production plant. In March 2023 a co-operation agreement was signed with Italy’s Enel to jointly work on its nuclear technology projects. Enel agreed to provide specialised expertise and newcleo agreed to secure an option for Enel as first investor in its first NPP.

This was rapidly followed by an equity raise of up to €1bn to fund further development. In July newcleo signed an agreement with Italy-based shipbuilder Fincantieri and certification multinational RINA to jointly study nuclear applications to the shipping industry. In August newcleo agreed to purchase the shares of nuclear pumps group Pompes Rütschi SAS and Rütschi Fluid AG (finalised in December) and in September signed an MOU with the UK’s National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) for collaboration on advanced nuclear research and development.

October 2023 saw newcleo sign a cooperation agreement with the Tosto Group, a manufacturer of large components and pressure equipment in the chemicals, oil & gas and energy sectors, including nuclear. Newcleo also announced completion of its acquisition of Italy-based Servizi Ricerche e Sviluppo and of Fucina Italia, which focus on the design and building of nuclear systems deploying liquid lead technology. In November newcleo signed a five-year partnership with the London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE) to conduct advanced research into the economics of energy policy.

Newcleo says its mission “is to generate safe, clean, economic and practically inexhaustible energy for the world, through a radically innovative combination of existing, accessible technologies”. It claims to “capitalise on 30 years of R&D activity in metal-cooled fast reactors and liquid-lead cooling systems. Newcleo says its reactor design “has been optimised over the last 20 years leading to the concept of an ultra-compact and transportable 200 MWe module with improvements in energy density compared to other technologies”.

Currently, however, the only operating liquid metal-cooled fast reactors are in Russia, using sodium as the coolant. Russia is also constructing the world’s first lead-cooled small modular reactor (Brest-OD-300) in Seversk as part of a facility to demonstrate an on-site closed fuel cycle, including novel fuel fabrication. This reactor, based on decades of complex research and development, and supported by the entire Russian nuclear industry, is due to begin operation in 2029. As yet, despite its rapidly growing list of acquisitions and co-operation agreements, newcleo’s technology remains in the very early design stage making it very unlikely to be able to meet its target of deploying a LFR in France in 2030.