The US-based Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) on 2 June published a White Paper, “Rethinking Deployment Scenarios to Enable Large-Scale, Demand-Driven Non-Electricity Markets for Advanced Reactors”. EPRI said it was “exploring how the full potential of nuclear energy can be brought to bear on the intertwined challenges of meeting future global energy demands, maintaining or improving quality of life, and mitigating environmental degradation”. The paper is a preview of an upcoming EPRI report, with the same title, which examines four possible deployment scenarios that re-imagine the role nuclear technology can play in meeting energy demands of the future at scale.

EPRI is considering how the unique attributes of nuclear energy generation can be leveraged through innovative technology configurations and efficient delivery and deployment models for hydrogen and synthetic fuels production facilities, provide options to transform global prospects for a cost-effective, scalable, and rapid clean energy transition. It says a key enabler of these scenarios “is the complete shift to factory- and shipyard-based manufacturing for delivering the nuclear plant and production platforms”.

It looks at three scenarios based around modern large-scale, shipyard-manufactured, floating production, storage, and offloading (FPSO) facilities. These facilities can use heat and electricity from high-temperature heat sources to synthesise commodities such as ammonia for shipping, Jet A for aviation, electricity, and/or desalinated water without accessing additional inventories of fossil hydrocarbons.

A fourth scenario describes an onshore ‘Gigafactory’ to manufacture and install all the components for a large plant that produces hydrogen for injection into the existing natural gas infrastructure. “Shipyard manufacture, combined with a standardized (open) architecture systems approach, will enable continuous cost reduction and performance improvement to be applied to the full range of market applications: electricity, hydrogen, synthetic fuels, fresh water, and chemicals,” EPRI notes.

Advanced reactors produce high-temperature heat and electricity, making them exceptional heat sources for the production of hydrogen and hydrogen-based products such as ammonia and CO2-neutral synthetic fuels. When combined with a design and delivery process that manufactures the entire plant – costs and build times can be dramatically reduced for electricity production as well.

EPRI’s evaluation is based on four tenets:

  • The entire plant and infrastructure are fabricated in a modern shipyard;
  • The plant and infrastructure are delivered to the point of use via the ocean and waterways;
  • The products are high-value, storable, conveyable commodities suitable for substitution on a “like-for-like” basis to serve established markets on global scales; and
  • Results from techno-economic analyses based on traceable public data and proprietary commercial cost estimates and quotes.

The scenarios are offered as feasible commercial options ready for initial demonstration at scale in the coming decades and scaling by 2050 based on four lines of evidence.

  • The fabrication methods and infrastructure required to support the four scenarios already exist at scale at shipyards worldwide.
  • Deployment of nuclear reactors on ships predates the commercial nuclear industry and experience with naval nuclear propulsion spans seven decades.
  • Floating nuclear plants for generation of heat and power also date back decades, and recent interest in barge-mounted nuclear plants is growing (e.g.. Rosatom’s Akademik Lomonosov combined heat and power plant in Pekev).
  • The offshore oil and gas industry currently relies on a fleet of large floating production, storage, and offloading (FPSO) vessels for the in situ collection, processing, storage, and transfer of hydrocarbons in lieu of land-based petrochemical facilities.