Bill Lee and Michael Rushton Bangor University: The future of nuclear: power stations could make hydrogen, heat homes and decarbonise industry. While reducing the amount of gas and oil burned, [electrification of heat and transport] would at least double the amount of electricity the national grid will need by 2050. Perhaps this could be met with renewables and electricity storage in batteries, to cover those moments when the Sun isn’t shining and there’s no wind to generate green energy. But sadly, battery technology isn’t currently powerful enough to store energy at that scale. Even today’s largest battery stores can only provide back-up electricity for a few hours, which is not always enough to cover extended periods of low wind or shorter daylight hours during winter. Battery technology is improving all the time, but it may not do so fast enough to meet rising electricity demand. Rolling out lots of electric vehicles could squeeze the supply of batteries even further, potentially even increasing their cost. Future nuclear reactors will not just be big kettles making steam to drive turbines that generate electricity. The heat produced during the nuclear reaction can be diverted to power processes that are currently difficult to decarbonise. Take heating in buildings, for example. Heat cooler than 400°C can be extracted after the turbine, and pumped into district heating systems, replacing fossil fuels like natural gas. This is a process that is already carried out daily from municipal waste incinerators across Europe. High-temperature heat (between 400 and 900°C) could be diverted from nearer the reactor, before it reaches the turbine in a nuclear plant. It could be used to power processes that produce low-carbon hydrogen fuel, ammonia and synthetic fuels for ships and jets. This heat could also supply industries such as steel, cement, glass and chemical manufacturing, which often otherwise use burners powered by fossil fuels.
The Conversation 4th Nov 2020 read more »