Nuclear, Sustainable Tech Groups Join to Decarbonize Hydrogen, Chemical Production

A UK-based nuclear energy group is working with an Italian technology company to support decarbonization of the chemical industry, including hydrogen production. The agreement announced Jan. 10 between newcleo, a developer of small modular reactors (SMRs) and producer of MOX (mixed oxide) fuel, and two subsidiaries of Italy’s MAIRE will enable development of a conceptual study for carbon-neutral hydrogen production and sustainable chemicals.

MAIRE, headquartered in Rome, is known for global development of technology focused on sustainability. The company, through subsidiaries NextChem and Tecnimont, designs processes for technologies including fertilizers, hydrogen, carbon capture, fuels and chemical, and polymers.

The groups on Wednesday said the agreement will power a new model for the “e-Factory for carbon-neutral Chemistry” launched by NextChem Tech. It will enable the previously mentioned conceptual study around hydrogen and chemicals production, “thanks to the combination of newcleo’s innovative nuclear technology with MAIRE’s chemical technologies and expertise.”

The companies said NextChem Tech’s “specific know-how in the field of hydrogen solutions and chemicals at various industrial scales” will join with the “carbon-neutral, compact and competitive energy solution” from newcleo. The British company is known for its design and construction of Generation IV nuclear reactors, or lead-cooled fast reactors (LFRs) fueled with MOX (watch the video below).

“Small or advanced modular reactors have the potential not only to serve electricity production, but also to have industrial applications,” said Stefano Buono, newcleo chairman and CEO. “However, a key prerequisite to provide carbon-free and safe energy for industrial uses is the elimination of nuclear accidents. newcleo’s passive reactor achieves safety by design, thanks to the laws of physics, and this enables our lead fast reactors to remain in a safe state even in the unlikely event of severe accidents or sabotage scenarios.”

Buono explained that, “Thanks to the favorable physical properties of lead, this level of safety is achievable with a reduction of costs in compared with Gen III SMRs, paving the way to a competitive ‘e-Factory for carbon-neutral chemistry’ as envisaged by MAIRE.”

The groups said the agreement will enable the production of electrolytic hydrogen and sustainable chemicals, including carbon-neutral ammonia, methanol, e-fuels and derivatives. The deal for that production is in line with the decision by the European Union (EU) to include innovative nuclear technologies, such as newcleo’s, in the EU Taxonomy of environmentally sustainable economic activities.

Tecnimont as part of the agreement will provide consultancy services for newcleo’s power plant, which is based on newcleo’s SMR LFR-AS-200 technology. Development of the plant “will apply Tecnimont’s modularization approach to optimize construction and planning methodology, reducing time and costs,” the companies said, noting that “will boost newcleo’s vision of a full modular, affordable and easy-to-deploy plant.”

Buono told POWER, “The transition to a sustainable future demands constant innovative solutions, and to do this, it is crucial to show the benefits of embracing nuclear power. With nuclear manufacturing, processes can be significantly more efficient and cleaner. At newcleo we are confident that our nuclear technology is very well-suited to be a force in industrial applications, starting with decarbonizing hydrogen and chemical production.  We carry on with our sound commitment to pioneering green and environmentally responsible practices for a more sustainable and resilient future.

“We are excited to launch this collaboration with MAIRE,” said Buono, “and look forward to progressing our shared visions for sustainable, carbon-free hydrogen and chemicals production.”

Darrell Proctor is a senior associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).

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