In the future, it will still be difficult to reduce the cost of electricity to a sufficiently low level through the strategy of wind power and photovoltaic power station energy storage. Based on this understanding, the United States has evaluated the application potential of small nuclear battery in future clean power systems. It is hoped that the introduction of small nuclear battery in the power system can solve the problems faced by the current construction of clean power systems such as wind and solar.
1. Definition and characteristics of nuclear battery
Nuclear battery are not defined according to technologies such as the type or size of reactor coolant, and the following characteristics are required to meet the concept of nuclear battery:
Compared with other distributed energy sources, it should be competitive in terms of cost. It should have the ability to replace fossil fuels in many application scenarios.
Single nuclear battery is standardized in terms of size, output power, etc., and support mass production. In order to achieve low-cost production, the production scale must reach at least the production scale of commercial jet engines.
● Modularity and easy transportation
It is very easy to install and remove, so that the nuclear battery can be sent back to the factory for refurbishment or scrapped. The operating mode of nuclear battery is similar to that of gas turbines, and maintenance is mainly carried out in factories, so the convenience of transportation during maintenance must be considered.
It operates safely and reliably in an unattended manner, minimizing the customer's operating costs. Reliability Equipped with systems and technologies with high reliability.
2. The cost of nuclear battery
Experts systematically assess the cost of nuclear battery. When nuclear battery meets its defined characteristics while ensuring their maximum output power, the cost evaluation results of nuclear battery show that nuclear batteries up to 5 MW or 10 MW are much more expensive than fuel cells to provide energy . Obviously, this conclusion does not support the scale defined by NRC, and maximizing the output power of nuclear batteries is conducive to reducing costs.
3. Potential market and economic analysis of nuclear battery
Taking the United States as an example, the potential application scenarios of nuclear battery in the American power system or energy system are discussed. There are four main categories of energy consumption in the United States: home energy storage, commercial energy, industrial, and transportation. The power sector converts various forms of energy into electrical energy and transmits it to different user centers. In the United States, electricity only accounts for about 17% of total energy consumption.
A large amount of energy is consumed in the form of thermal energy, which is a major energy market in the United States and around the world. Nuclear reactors will generate a large amount of waste heat, which is expected to meet users' demand for electricity and provide a large amount of heat energy. The study evaluated the potential for large-scale application of nuclear batteries in several scenarios such as industrial heating, biofuel production, distributed power, marine and hydrogen production.
First, the field of industrial heating. The study considers the largest nuclear battery market to be in the industrial heating segment. U.S. industrial heat consumption is more than twice that of electricity consumption. With stringent carbon dioxide emissions requirements comes a huge demand for low-carbon heat sources. The largest demand areas for heat energy in the United States are the utilities, refining, and chemical industry sectors.
While nuclear battery can serve larger industrial heat users, users with larger-scale heat needs have more options, making these options less competitive at small power outputs. It is generally believed that nuclear battery have the potential to replace other fossil fuels in petroleum manufacturing, chemical manufacturing, paper and food manufacturing.
Second, the biofuel market. A low-carbon world will lead to tremendous changes in the energy market, and the use of nuclear battery to produce biofuels has a large market space. Biofuels produced by nuclear battery have the potential to cost $15 to $20 per million BTUs for heat. Although it may be lower than the cost of electric heat conversion, it is still higher than the current cost of natural gas prices, making it difficult to be economical in a short period of time.
Third, the field of distributed power. The price structure in the U.S. electricity market is mainly composed of three parts: electricity production, electricity transmission, and electricity distribution, of which electricity production accounts for 56%, electricity transmission accounts for 13%, and electricity distribution accounts for 31%. Nuclear battery is economically viable by avoiding transmission and distribution costs by generating electricity from nuclear batteries on-site.
Fourth, the maritime market. Nuclear battery has great potential in the field of container freight ocean-going ships. The use of nuclear battery in the shipping market will significantly reduce the consumption of fossil fuels in maritime transport. The use of nuclear battery may change the existing business model of shipping. Nuclear battery is not just a substitute for fossil fuels. At the same time, fuel consumption rises rapidly with the increase or decrease of transportation speed.
Fifth, in addition to the above fields, nuclear battery can also be used to produce hydrogen. Under the low-carbon trend, hydrogen may become competitive as a heat source in some parts of the United States and can replace natural gas. But hydrogen has a lower volumetric energy density than natural gas, making it more expensive to transport over long distances. In this field, it is only economical to produce hydrogen by cracking natural gas with nuclear battery in local areas.
Although nuclear battery is very attractive in many fields, it is clear that nuclear battery still face huge economic challenges in these potential fields at this stage. Under the low-carbon trend, for users with energy demand of several megawatts to hundreds of megawatts, what to use to replace fossil fuels to maintain their competitiveness still needs to be explored. At this stage, compared with fossil fuels using nuclear battery and CCS, it is possible to have economical efficiency only on a certain scale. Although the article describes the economics of the application of nuclear battery in some special scenarios, further evaluation of relevant actual projects is required.