X-Energy Reactor has partnered with materials science company Dow to showcase a future grid-scale next-generation nuclear reactor for an industrial site in North America.
Under the partnership, the two companies will work together to install X-energy’s Xe-100 high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR) facility at one of Dow’s U.S. Gulf Coast sites, providing the site with low-carbon power and steam. Nuclear power does not produce carbon emissions.
The deal comes after the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) made Dow a subawardee under X-energy’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP) Cooperative Agreement.
X-energy was selected by DOE in 2020 to receive up to $1.2 billion under the ARDP in federal cost-shared funding to develop, license, build, and demonstrate an operational advanced reactor and fuel fabrication facility by the end of the decade.
The company is not the only one working toward potential commercial-scale small nuclear power plants of the future. GE Hitachi Nuclear has developed its BWRX-300 SMR nuclear reactor, while Oregon-based NuScale Power has received U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission approval for its design and plans to be part of a SMR demonstration project at the Idaho National Laboratory.
According to X-energy, its HTGR technology can support broad industrial use applications through its high-temperature heat and steam output that can address the needs of both large and regional electricity and/or industrial manufacturing systems. The four-reactor Xe-100 nuclear plant will provide a Dow facility with low-carbon process heat and power to make products.
The joint development agreement signed between the two firms includes up to $50 million in engineering work, up to half of which will be funded through ARDP, and the other half by Dow. The work scope also includes preparing and submitting a construction permit application to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Dow and X-energy expect to finalize site selection in 2023, subject to DOE review and approval. The companies also plan to develop a framework to jointly license and utilize the technology for other industrial customers.
“The utilization 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 Jim Fitterling, Dow chairman and CEO. “The collaboration with X-energy and the DOE will serve as a leading example of how the industrial sector can safely, effectively and affordably decarbonize.”
The U.S. is close to commissioning its first new nuclear power project in many years, as Georgia Power works to finish the oft-delayed Vogle Units 3 and 4 expansion. That $30 billion project has endured many challenges, including the contractor's bankruptcy and other delays dealing with safety and construction issues, but Georgia Power hopes to commission Vogtle 3 sometime later this year.
Nuclear plants account for nearly 20 percent of the U.S. electricity generation mix and more than half of the nation's carbon-free power. Many outside observers concede that the costs of nuclear are prohibitively high, but some experts contend that the energy sector cannot reach net-zero emissions goals without nuclear.
Research teams at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab in California recently achieved net energy gain with experiments in nuclear fusion, different from the fission reaction used in all other working nuclear power plants. However, reaching commercial operations may take several decades, if ever.