US companies and labs co-operate on molten salt technology

11 September 2018

Terrestrial Energy USA is to cooperate with Southern Company and several US Department of Energy (DOE) national labs, in a two-year research and development (R&D) project to investigate whether its fourth-generation molten salt reactor technology can produce hydrogen efficiently.

The project will examine how efficiently and economically Terrestial’s Integral Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR) power plant can produce industrial-scale hydrogen. It will test a hybrid sulphur process, which is a carbon-free method of generating hydrogen from water and “may be more efficient than high-temperature steam electrolysis,” Terrestrial said in a statement on 5 September.

The aim is “to demonstrate the commercial and industrial-scale viability of pairing the hybrid sulphur process with an IMSR power plant for large-scale production of hydrogen with zero greenhouse-gas emissions,” it noted. The   demonstration is based on two decades of research at the DOE’s Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL). Sandia National Laboratories and Idaho National Laboratory will also participate in the project. Terrestial noted that, by 2020, the hydrogen market is expected to reach $200 billion.

Molten salt reactors use fuel dissolved in a molten fluoride or chloride salt  as both fuel and coolantd, which excludes the possibility of a loss of coolant accident.

Terrestrial's IMSR integrates the primary reactor components, including primary heat exchangers, to a secondary clean salt circuit, in a sealed and replaceable core vessel. It is designed for factory fabrication, and could be used for electricity production and industrial process heat generation. Terrestrial aims to commercialise the 400MWt (190MWe) design in the 2020s.

Simon Irish, CEO of Terrestrial Energy USA said hydrogen production is only one of many industrial applications of IMSR power plants beyond electricity generation. "Removing carbon from the production of hydrogen helps bring deep decarbonisation into reach. It points the way to the production of carbon-neutral transport fuels and zero-emissions fertilisers."

In June 2017, Terrestrial began a feasibility study for the siting of the first commercial IMSR at Canadian Nuclear Laboratories' Chalk River site. Terrestrial and US utility Energy Northwest in March signed a memorandum of understanding on the terms of the possible siting, construction and operation of an IMSR at a site at the Idaho National Laboratory in southeastern Idaho.

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