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Advanced modular reactors can play a key role in Britain’s future energy mix argues Steve Threlfall.

U-Battery is an advanced modular reactor, capable of providing a low-carbon, cost-effective, locally embedded and reliable source of power and heat for energy-intensive industries and remote locations.

This article was originally published in Power Engineering International Issue 5-2020. Read the mobile-friendly digimag or subscribe to receive a print copy.

The technology is part of the UK government’s efforts to support advanced nuclear technologies, and is one of three vendors to have passed through to Phase 2 of the Advanced Modular Reactor (AMR) Feasibility and Development project, a £46 million programme to support the design and development of advanced, modular reactor designs.

Progression through to Phase 2 of the programme saw U-Battery awarded almost £10 million to conduct design and development work, the next step in bringing the new nuclear technology to market.

In Phase 1 of the AMR programme, U-Battery demonstrated the feasibility and viability of its proposed technology, both technically and commercially.

U-Battery has also received additional funding from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to design and build ‘mock-ups’ of the two main vessels for the reactor and the connecting duct. The investment was awarded under the ‘Advanced Manufacturing and Materials’ programme.

During the next phases of the programme, U-Battery is looking to identify future opportunities to develop partnerships as it progresses through delivering the design and development work, and progressing towards delivering the FOAK.

“The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy expects to invest around £180 million in nuclear innovation”

Energy innovation

The AMR programme sits under the banner of the UK government’s Energy Innovation Portfolio, through which the UK government has committed to investing around £460 million in nuclear research and innovation between 2016 and 2021.

As part of this commitment, within the BEIS Energy Innovation Programme, BEIS expects to invest around £180 million in nuclear innovation. Between 2016 and 2018, Phase 1 saw over £20 million of funding provided to support innovation in the civil nuclear sector, building on the recommendations set out by the Nuclear Innovation Research Advisory Board.

In December 2017, Phase 2 funding was announced, making up to £8 million available for work on modern safety and security methodologies, and studies into advanced fuels.

Within the Advanced Manufacturing & Materials (AMM) programme, the government aims to develop technology to support the UK manufacture of components for modular reactors and other reactor types by 2030.

The first phase of the AMM programme provided initial funding of £5 million to develop technologies in advanced manufacturing and materials. The programme’s second phase will invest £20 million into increasing the manufacturing or technology readiness of suitable technologies towards demonstration and commercialisation.

Support for nuclear innovation is a key priority for the UK government, and advanced modular reactors are an important part of that. These technologies will contribute to the establishment of a new, low-carbon industry which can support the UK’s clean economic recovery as it moves towards net-zero emissions by 2050.

Minister for Business and Industry, Nadhim Zahawi, has previously stated that “advanced modular reactors are the next step in nuclear energy and have the potential to be a crucial part of tackling carbon emissions and climate change.” He added they “could also create thousands more green collar jobs for decades to come.”

Potential uses

U-Battery has the potential to drive significant economic benefits through deployment to global markets. U-Battery has many potential applications and can be deployed in a cogeneration configuration. In addition to the provision of low carbon heat and power to remote locales, or heavy industrial sites, U-Battery has a wide array of other potential uses including the delivery of back-up power to large nuclear reactors, solutions for water-scarce areas through desalination and the generation of hydrogen for decarbonising the transport sector.

U-Battery is a market-led development and is intended to complement other low-carbon forms of generation.

Its unique concept enables a shorter development timeframe, and a low cost, low-risk design and licensing process. Its modular design allows quality assurance and testing to occur during the manufacturing stage, while minimising civil construction times, reducing construction risk and financing costs, and easing transportation to global customers.

U-Battery’s development is being supported by several international industrial partners with extensive nuclear and engineering expertise.

U-Battery is powered by TRISO fuel, a proven accident-tolerant technology whose design prevents the release of radioactive material and minimises the need for back-up shutdown systems (which has benefits for design and construction costs).

Based on the system’s configuration and built-in safety systems, the energy source can be located directly adjacent to the point of use, making U-Battery a unique offering as a source of low carbon, baseload, and reliable power, and reliable power, able to process heat at 700 degrees Celsius.

This is the reason it offers such a wide range of applications. U-Battery is currently undertaking a dual track development approach in the UK and Canada, since both markets present significant opportunities for the technology. However, the potential global market for the technology is considerable: conservative estimates value the global AMR market at £92 billion between 2025 and 2040, and U-Battery has already identified many potential sites in Canada and the UK, which units could be deployed to.

In the UK, U-Battery can support the decarbonisation of several strategic heavy and energy-intensive industries, including the paper, glass, steel, ceramics, minerals and chemicals sectors.

Future energy mix

As a society, we know the threat posed by climate change. We must take steps now to decarbonise our economy and position ourselves to deliver on net zero by 2050. This will enable us to mitigate the worst damage from climate change, as well as creating economic opportunities throughout the UK.

The best way to achieve this is through proven low-carbon technologies, such as nuclear and renewables, as well as innovative low-carbon technologies.

To maximise the role nuclear power can play in the delivery of net zero will require the deployment of further large-scale nuclear plants, as well as smaller/advanced reactors which can contribute to meeting the need for heat and hydrogen, as well as electricity.

U-Battery agrees with the recommendation from the Nuclear Innovation Research and Advisory Board that it “would be prudent to plan for nuclear energy to provide at least half of the firm low-carbon electricity not provided by renewables.”

Nuclear undersells the contribution it can make – the technology and processes used in generating energy are carbon free, and nuclear energy across the whole lifecycle is as low carbon as using renewable sources.

As an industry, we need to focus on collaborating with our nuclear partners to pool our resources and knowledge and ensure the industry’s cost effectiveness, efficiency and continued high levels of safety.

At U-Battery, we believe the future of nuclear is exciting and we are proud of the reliable and sustainable energy it provides, the modern lifestyles it supports, its other applications – such as medicine – and future innovative developments. We look forward to nuclear making a valuable contribution far into the future.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Steve Threlfall is General Manager of U-Battery