The purpose of this RFI is to solicit input for a potential future ARPA-E research program focused on the integration of nuclear reactor facilities into industrial processes to enable their provision of carbon-free heat and/or power. ARPA-E is seeking information regarding transformative and implementable technologies to facilitate this integration.
Traditionally, nuclear energy produces electricity via the conversion of fission reactions to heat, to mechanical energy, and finally to electricity. As a fundamentally clean, zero-carbon source of heat, nuclear energy offers a path to decarbonization in hard-to-abate industries where heat, especially high-quality heat, is a major energy input.
Historically, there have been applications of nuclear heat outside of electricity generation, such as desalination and district heating, but with the imminent deployment of advanced reactors (ARs), the opportunity to widen the application scope is expanding. ARs are distributed bi-axially in terms of thermal and electric output and temperature. Capacity ranges from a single megawatt (MW) for microreactors, to a few tens or low hundreds of MWs for small modular reactors (SMRs), and even up to gigawatt scale. Operating temperatures range from 300 up to 900°C.
The recent focus on decarbonization and sustainability has created new opportunities for novel combinations of existing, or emerging, technologies in new sector applications. Industrial processes, which generate 24% of our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions , remain difficult to decarbonize due to their large heat requirements. The potential to integrate advanced nuclear reactors with industrial processes offers a potential pathway to reduce or eliminate carbon emissions from this sector.