US-based materials science company Dow and X-energy Reactor Company have agreed to jointly advance efforts to deploy an advanced small modular reactor (SMR). The X-energy plant will provide a Dow facility with process heat and power to make products. Dow, a chemicals company, makes a wide variety of products including polyethylene used in packaging, paints, and foams.

X-energy's Xe-100 design is for a Generation IV, high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR) engineered to operate as a single 80 MWe unit which can be optimised as a four-unit plant delivering 320 MWe. The reactor can provide baseload power to an electricity system or support industrial applications with 200 MW thermal output per unit of high pressure, high temperature steam.

Dow, as a sub-awardee under the US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP), will work with X-energy to install the Xe-100 at one of Dow’s US Gulf Coast sites. The joint development agreement (JDA) includes up to $50m in engineering work, up to half of which is eligible for ARDP. Dow will provide the rest. The work scope also includes preparation and submission of a construction permit application to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

The JDA follows a letter of intent signed by Dow and X-energy in August 2022 detailing the planned collaboration. The Xe-100 reactor plant would provide process heat and power to the Dow facility. Dow said then that it also intends to take a minority equity stake in X-energy.

Dow and X-energy will work closely with DOE to finalise site selection in 2023. They aim to undertake further ARDP-related work under the JDA as the project progresses. The companies have agreed to develop a framework to jointly license and utilise the technology and experience from the project, enabling other industrial customers to make use of Xe-100 technology.

“The utilisation of X-energy’s fourth generation nuclear technology will enable Dow to take a major step in reducing our carbon emissions while delivering lower carbon footprint products to our customers and society,” said Dow chairman & CEO Jim Fitterling. “The collaboration with X-energy and the DOE will serve as a leading example of how the industrial sector can safely, effectively and affordably decarbonise.”

X-energy CEO Clay Sell noted: “From the beginning to the end of the supply chain, our technology can supply both power and heat to businesses in most sectors of the economy to help limit their carbon footprint.

X-energy says its HTGR technology can also support broad industrial use applications through its high-temperature heat and steam output that can support both large and regional electricity and/or industrial manufacturing systems. The four-reactor Xe-100 nuclear plant will provide a Dow facility with cost-competitive, low carbon process heat and power to make essential products used by consumers and businesses. X-energy adds that its simplified modular design “is road-shippable and intended to drive scalability, accelerate construction timelines and create more predictable and manageable construction costs”.

In 2020, DOE awarded X-energy up to $1.2bn under in ARDP federal cost-shared funding to develop, license, build, and demonstrate an operational advanced reactor and fuel fabrication facility by the end of the decade. X-energy has since completed the engineering and basic design of the reactor, advanced development of a fuel fabrication facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and is preparing to submit an application for licensing to NRC.

The Xe-100 is expected to be fuelled by high assay low enriched uranium (HALEU), of which Russia is currently the only producer. US Centrus Energy is in the process of developing a domestic source of HALEU the DOE support. Dow is one of the members of the HALEU Consortium established by DOE in December 2022 to hasten this process.

Dow cautions about “forward looking statements” detailing a very long list of factors which could mean that “actual results to differ materially from those projected, anticipated or implied”. While such statements are “expressed in good faith and believed to have a reasonable basis, but there can be no assurance that the expectation or belief will result or be achieved or accomplished”. Dow notes that the factors listed “are not the only risks and uncertainties that Dow faces” and “there may be other risks and uncertainties that Dow is unable to identify at this time”.

Image: X-energy's Xe-100 reactor design (courtesy of X-energy)