By Simon Irish
We focus a lot of attention on electrification and decarbonizing the electric grid, but it is only one piece of the decarbonization challenge. About one-third of energy consumption and CO2 emissions come from industry. Industrial processes need more than just electricity. They need large amounts of heat to produce the commodities, materials, and products of our modern world.
A new set of visualizations by Terrestrial Energy illustrate how carbon-free heat and power from an IMSR cogeneration plant are used in industry, as well as increasing efficiency and robustness of the electric grid.
Heat at high temperatures is essential to myriad industrial processes – including the manufacturing of plastics, petrochemicals, metals, concrete, asphalt, iron, building materials or other vital products. Heat is also used to produce hydrogen and ammonia, a key ingredient in fertilizer, and by extension, to grow the food we eat. We are also considering green hydrogen and ammonia as new clean energy alternatives, particularly in the transport sector. We may well need a lot more hydrogen and ammonia in our future.
Industrial heat and power must be reliable and affordable to avoid inflating the price of commodities, materials, and products. That heat and power must be emissions-free as well.
However, unlike electricity generation today, there are no options available to replace burning fossil fuels to produce industrial heat. Variable renewables such as wind and solar produce electricity, not the requisite heat.
Today’s conventional nuclear power plants use low-temperature fission technology. They produce zero-carbon heat, but for various reasons, that heat is not suitable for industrial applications. For a start, their heat supply is only at 270 degrees C, which is not high enough to be relevant to those important industrial processes that make the materials of our modern world.
Producing these materials requires heat at temperatures over 500 degrees C, and providing clean heat for industrial production is a market worth many hundreds of billion dollars per year.
More Efficient Heat and Electricity Generation
The IMSR cogeneration plant with its molten salt reactor generates heat, which is then efficiently transported to the point of commercial supply for delivery at 585 degrees C. This may be an industrial plant many kilometers away, and with this capability, an IMSR cogeneration plant has many industrial use cases.
Or it can be used to generate electricity, but at 585 degrees C, it does that nearly 50% more efficiently than conventional nuclear technology, and it has a strong ability to load-follow.
Or it can be used as a replacement heat source to repower coal plants, which is already being done with woodchip and natural gas. IMSR heat can even be stored efficiently over 3-to-12-hour periods using a simple two-tank molten salt thermal storage system.
With these capabilities, the IMSR cogeneration plant can be the heart of a future zero-emission industrial park that produces the materials we need with a cost-competitive and near-zero-carbon footprint. The IMSR cogeneration plant capabilities extend to the production of green ammonia or hydrogen, commodities that may play a much more central role in our clean and prosperous future.
An IMSR cogeneration plant will be sited within reach of its heat and electricity customers. It has a small land footprint, only 7 hectares (17.3 acres), and the plant’s heat delivery systems work efficiently over many kilometers. It is an ideal energy partner for oil and gas or petrochemical facilities, which make the crucial fuels of our modern world, but doing so cost-competitively with reliable, zero-carbon, and low-cost heat and power.
An IMSR power plant is capable of rapid ramp-up and seamless load following. This is becoming critically important for a robust grid, balancing the variable supply from wind and solar generation and meeting the varying demand loads over a 24-hour period.
This versatility across a wide spectrum of industrial uses gives the IMSR cogeneration plant the potential to be at the heart of our zero-carbon energy future.