USA funds nuclear-coupled carbon capture studies

21 April 2022

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded nearly USD5 million to two separate cost-shared projects that aim to study the use of direct air capture (DAC) technology at nuclear power plants. The studies - one led by Constellation at its Byron plant, and the other led by Battelle Memorial Institute at Southern Company's Farley plant - ultimately aim to leverage the plants' carbon-free energy to remove CO2 from ambient air.

Byron's cooling towers could also help sequester atmospheric carbon (Image: Constellation)

Constellation and its project partners have been selected to receive USD2.5 million of DOE funding, with non-DOE funding of USD625,000 for a total of USD3.125 million, to examine the technical and commercial viability of a DAC and sequestration system developed by Carbon Engineering, co-located with the two-unit Byron pressurised water reactor plant in Illinois. Constellation's partners in the project are 1PointFive Inc, Worley Group Inc, Carbon Engineering Ltd, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

The study will involve the use of Carbon Engineering's DAC technology, licensed to 1PointFive, within plant operations at Byron and its twin 495-foot-tall (150 metres) hyperbolic cooling towers. A chemical solution would be added to water flowing through the main condenser on the non-nuclear side of the plant. After travelling through the condenser, the water would travel out to the cooling towers, where CO2 in the air will attach itself to the chemical solution and become captured and sequestered.

The project could capture 250,000 tons of CO2 every year, using waste heat from the nuclear power plant to increase the overall energy efficiency of the CO2 removal process. According to DOE, the CO2 captured during the study will be transported by pipeline to an underground geological formation in Illinois for dedicated and permanent storage. However, CO2 sequestered in this way could potentially be used in net-zero-emission industrial processes ranging from creating sustainable aviation fuel to supplying CO2 to the beverage industry, and the study will also focus on the potential for a nuclear plant to become the centre of a carbon capture hub, partnering the DAC technology with storage of CO2.

The collaboration leverages the clean energy expertise at nuclear plants to further advance climate-saving projects, Constellation CEO Joseph Dominguez said. "We need many new solutions to address the climate crisis and exploring this technology at one of our clean energy centres is a positive step driving us toward a carbon-free future," he added.

"A project like this will give nuclear power, which already delivers the most carbon-free electricity of any source in the nation, an even bigger role in helping America accelerate the transition to a carbon-free future," Constellation Chief Nuclear Officer Dave Rhoades said.

The study is expected to conclude in 2023.

The Byron plant had been scheduled for closure for economic reasons in 2021, but Exelon - which has since separated its competitive energy businesses to form Constellation - reversed its decision to retire the plant last September after Illinois Governor JB Pritzker signed into law the state's new energy legislation package.

NuDACCS in Alabama

The Battelle-led Nuclear Direct Air Capture with Carbon Storage (NuDACCS) project has been awarded USD2.499 million, with non-DOE funding of USD864,446 for a total value of USD3.364, to conduct a FEED (front-end engineering design) study for the deployment of a technically advanced DAC system developed by AirCapture LLC at Southern Company's Farley pressurised water reactor plant in Alabama. The project will define system costs, performance and business-case options for leveraging available thermal energy from the nuclear plant to separate CO2 from ambient air for off-site geologic storage, in support of eventual system construction.

Battelle will be collaborating in the study with AirCapture, Carbonvert Inc, Sargent & Lundy, Southern Company and the University of Alabama.

The awards were announced on 14 April by the DOE's Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News