X-Energy, Dow Unveil Texas Site for ARDP Nuclear Demonstration

X-energy and Dow will site a proposed four-unit 320-MWe Xe-100 advanced nuclear reactor facility at Union Carbide Corp. Seadrift Operations, a sprawling Dow chemical materials manufacturing site in Seadrift, Calhoun County, Texas.

The companies on May 11 said the small modular reactor (SMR) project, part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP), will provide the energy-intensive manufacturing site with carbon-free power and steam as Seadrift’s existing energy and steam assets approach retirement.

Site selection of the Seadrift location now paves the way for Dow and X-energy to prepare and submit a Part 50 construction permit application for the SMR project to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). “Construction on the four-reactor project is expected to begin in 2026 and to be completed by the end of this decade,” the partners noted on Thursday.

An X-energy spokesperson told POWER the company expects to provide an update on the timeframe of its licensing endeavors “later this year.” Site selection “was a critical part of the license preparation and submission process,” he noted. 

X-energy and Dow on May 10, 2023, announced they would site a proposed four-unit 320-MWe Xe-100 advanced nuclear reactor facility at the Union Carbide Corp. Seadrift Operations site in Seadrift, Calhoun County, Texas. This image is a rendering of an Xe-100 plant. Courtesy: X-energy

A Nuclear Combined Steam and Power Plant

X-energy’s Xe-100 reactor is an 80-MWe/200-MWth pebble-bed high-temperature gas reactor (HTGR), and a standard Xe-100 power is scaled as a four-pack for 320 MWe. “X-energy will deliver our innovative technology to the Texas Gulf Coast to efficiently and reliably decarbonize the Seadrift Site’s heat and power assets,” noted Clay Sell, X-energy CEO, on Thursday. “We will showcase the unique versatility and wide range of applications of the Xe-100 advanced small modular nuclear reactor for energy production and manufacturing. This project will serve as a model for how we can decarbonize processes to create the products relied upon by people all over the world.”

Dow’s Seadrift site sprawls over 4,700 acres of Calhoun County, about an hour northeast of Corpus Christi. The site “manufactures more than 4 million pounds of materials per year used across a wide variety of applications including food packaging and preservation, footwear, wire and cable insulation, solar cell membranes, and packaging for medical and pharmaceutical products,” Dow said. The proposed SMR project is expected to reduce the Seadrift site’s emissions by approximately 440,000 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year.

According to Dow’s North America Business Director of Energy & Climate Kreshka Young, the Seadrift site currently produces the majority of its consumed power and steam with gas-fired combustion and steam turbines. “Dow expects to retire these turbines early next decade,” she told POWER on Thursday. Dow envisions that the SMR plant will “continuously supply” all electric power and steam needs at the Seadrift site. The company will also “evaluate options for the sale of any excess power produced,” she noted. 

For Dow, a chemicals manufacturing giant that first unveiled it was working with X-energy to deploy an HTGR in August 2022, the SMR project is part of a larger corporate initiative to achieve sustainable decarbonization of its energy-intensive industries to decarbonize. Dow is targeting “a 30% reduction in scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions since 2005 by 2030, on its path to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050,” it noted. 

“Advanced nuclear has attractive advantages over other sources of clean power, including a compact footprint, competitive cost, and enhanced power and steam reliability,” said Jim Fitterling, Dow chairman and CEO, on Thursday. “The Seadrift site plays an important role in further advancing Dow’s sustainability goals, as evidenced by our increasing growth and investment at the site.” 

Young noted, however, that Dow is also exploring other options for its overall portfolio. “More broadly speaking, every site has a unique profile of power and steam requirements. As such, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to supplying Dow’s sites,” she said. “Instead, a broad portfolio of options, including conventional power and steam technologies, carbon capture and sequestration, clean hydrogen, and renewables, in addition to nuclear, will be required to optimize Dow’s Path to Zero.”

Site Suited to Demonstrate Industrial Decarbonization With Nuclear

The new site for X-energy’s much-watched ARDP demonstration is of interest given that the Rockville, Maryland–based advanced technology firm was one of two picks (along with TerraPower’s Natrium project) for the DOE’s first ARDP awards in 2020. While the DOE awarded X-energy $80 million in initial ARDP funding to demonstrate an Xe-100 power plant and a fuel fabrication facility within seven years (by 2028), the agency later indicated it would invest about $1.23 billion in funding from the November 2021–enacted Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) over the seven-year demonstration period.

Under an ARDP cooperative agreement, which X-energy signed with the DOE’s Clean Energy Demonstrations Office in March 2021, the project was originally slated to be developed with Energy Northwest in Washington state and expected to be operational by 2028. However, X-energy on March 1, announced it would move its Xe-100 demonstration to a Dow site in the U.S. Gulf Coast region.

As POWER reported, the shake-up stemmed from a joint development agreement (JDA) that X-energy signed with Dow on March 1, as well as a change by the DOE to make Dow “a sub-awardee” under X-energy’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program Cooperative Agreement. “The JDA provides for up to $50 million in engineering work, up to half of which is eligible to be funded through ARDP, and the other half by Dow,” X-energy said on Thursday.

The change officially made Dow X-energy’s “customer/partner” under the ARDP award. It also positioned the HTGR demonstration to become the first grid-scale advanced reactor at an industrial site in North America, X-energy told POWER.

X-energy noted that since it garnered the ARDP award, it has completed the engineering and basic design of the nuclear reactor. It has also begun development and licensing of a commercial-scale fuel fabrication facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The facility will manufacture X-energy’s proprietary TRISO-X TRi-structural ISOtropic particle fuel (TRISO) fuel technology, which the company developed under the 2015 DOE Advanced Gas Reactor (AGR) Fuel Qualification Program.

Sonal Patel is a POWER senior associate editor (@sonalcpatel@POWERmagazine).

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