Tag Archives: DOE

The Importance of Baseload Generation and Real-Time Control to Grid Stability and Reliability

On 23 August 2017, the Department of Energy (DOE) issued a report entitled, “Staff Report to the Secretary on Energy Markets and Reliability.” In his cover letter, Energy Secretary Rick Perry notes:

“It is apparent that in today’s competitive markets certain regulations and subsidies are having a large impact on the functioning of markets, and thereby challenging our power generation mix. It is important for policy makers to consider their intended and unintended effects.”

Among the consequences of the national push to implement new generation capacity from variable renewable energy (VRE) resources (i.e., wind & solar) are: (1) increasing grid perturbations due to the variability of the output from VRE generators, and (2) early retirement of many baseload generating plants because of several factors, including the desire of many states to meet their energy demand with a generating portfolio containing a greater percentage of VRE generators. Grid perturbations can challenge the reliability of the U.S. bulk power systems that comprise our national electrical grid. The reduction of baseload capacity reduces the resilience of the bulk power system and its ability dampen these perturbations.

The DOE staff report contains the following typical daily load curve. Baseload plants include nuclear and coal that operate at high capacity factor and generally do not maneuver in response to a change in demand. The intermediate load is supplied by a mix of generators, including VRE generators, which typically operate at relatively low capacity factors. The peak load generators typically are natural gas power plants that can maneuver or be cycled (i.e., on / off) as needed to meet short-term load demand. The operating reserve is delivered by a combination of power plants that can be reliably dispatched if needed.

The trends in new generation additions and old generation retirements is summarized in the following graphic from the DOE staff report.

Here you can see that recent additions (since 2006) have focused on VRE generators (wind and solar) plus some new natural gas generators. In that same period, retirements have focused on oil, coal and nuclear generators, which likely were baseload generators.

The DOE staff report noted that continued closure of baseload plants puts areas of the country at greater risk of power outages. It offered a list of policy recommendations to reverse the trend, including providing power pricing advantages for baseload plants to continue operating, and speeding up and reducing costs for permitting for baseload power and transmission projects.

Regarding energy storage, the DOE staff report states the following in Section 4.1.3:

“Energy storage will be critical in the future if higher levels of VRE are deployed on the grid and require additional balancing of energy supply and demand in real time.”

“DOE has been investing in energy storage technology development for two decades, and major private investment is now active in commercializing and the beginnings of early deployment of grid-level storage, including within microgrids.”

Options for energy storage are identified in the DOE staff report.

You can download the DOE staff report to the Secretary and Secretary Perry’s cover letter here:

https://energy.gov/downloads/download-staff-report-secretary-electricity-markets-and-reliability

Lyncean members should recall our 2 August 2017 meeting and the presentation by Patrick Lee entitled, “A fast, flexible & coordinated control technology for the electric grid of the future.” This presentation described work by Sempra Energy and its subsidiary company PXiSE Energy Solutions to address the challenges to grid stability caused by VRE generators.   An effective solution has been demonstrated by adding energy storage and managing the combined output of the VER generators and the energy storage devices in real-time to match supply and demand and help stabilize the grid. This integrated solution, with energy storage plus real-time automated controls, appears to be broadly applicable to VRE generators and offers the promise, especially in Hawaii and California, for resilient and reliable electrical grids even with a high percentage of VRE generators in the state’s generation portfolio.

You can download Patrick Lee’s 2 August 2017 presentation to the Lyncean Group of San Diego at the following link:

https://lynceans.org/talk-113-8217/

 

 

 

 

The Nuclear Renaissance is Over in the U.S.

The nuclear renaissance seemed to offer a path forward to deploy new generations of safer, more efficient power reactors to replace existing fleets of large power reactors. In the U.S., that transition is captured in the following diagram.

Nuc renaissance roadmapSource: Department of Energy

The current issues plaguing the U.S. nuclear power industry are largely financial, driven primarily by the low price of natural gas and the correspondingly low price of electricity generated by fossil power plants fueled by natural gas.

The recently implemented EPA Clean Power Plan (CPP) also is having an impact by failing to give appropriate credit to nuclear power plants as a means for minimizing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This leaves renewable power generators (primarily hydro, wind and solar) to meet GHG emission targets in state and utility electric power portfolios.  See my 27 November 2015, 8 July 2015 and 2 July 2015 posts for more information on the CPP.

Together, these issues have derailed the U.S. nuclear renaissance, which seemed to be gaining momentum more than a decade ago. Frankly, I think the nuclear renaissance in the U.S. is over because of the following factors:

  • Successfully operating nuclear power plants are being retired early for financial reasons.
  • Fewer large, new Generation III (Gen III) advanced light water reactor plants are being built than expected.
  • The prospects for small, modular reactors (SMRs) and advanced Generation IV (Gen IV) reactors will not be realized for a long time.
  • Important infrastructure facilities in the U.S. commercial reactor fuel cycle have been cancelled.

These issues are discussed in the following text.

1.  Early retirement of successfully operating nuclear power plants for financial reasons

In a merchant energy market, nuclear power plants, even those operating at very high capacity factors, are undercut by natural gas generators, which can deliver electricity to market at lower prices. During the period from 2013 to 2015, the U.S. fleet of 99 power reactors (all considered to be “Generation II”) operated at an average net capacity factor of 90.41% (net capacity factor = actual power delivered / design electrical rating). This fleet of reactors has a combined generating capacity of about 100 GW, which represents about 20% of the total U.S. generating capacity.

Nuclear power plants do not currently receive subsidies commonly given to solar and wind power generators. For many U.S. utility executives, nuclear power plants are becoming financial liabilities in their generating portfolios. While some states are discussing ways to deliver financial relief for nuclear power plants operating within their borders, other states appear willing to let the plants close in spite of their real contributions to GHG reduction, grid stability, and the state and local economy.

Following are several examples of nuclear plant early retirements.

1.1. Exelon announced planned closure dates for Clinton and Quad Cities

The current operating license for the Clinton nuclear plant expires 29 September 2026 and the licenses for Quad Cities 1 & 2 expire on 14 December 2032. For the period 2013 – 2015, these nuclear power plants operated at very high capacity factors:

  • Quad Cities 1:     964 MWe @ 101.27%
  • Quad Cities 2:     957 MWe @ 92.68%
  • Clinton:              1,062 MWe @ 91.39%

On 2 June 2016, Exelon announced plans to retire the Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear plants on 1 June 2017 and 1 June 2018, respectively. This action was taken after the state failed to pass comprehensive energy legislation that would have offered financial relief to the utility. Also, Quad Cities was not selected in a reserve capacity auction that would have provided some needed future revenue. If the plants are closed as currently scheduled, Exelon will walk away from about 33 GW-years of carbon-free electric power generation.

You can read the Exelon press release at the following link:

http://www.exeloncorp.com/newsroom/clinton-and-quad-cities-retirement

1.2. PGE announced Diablo Canyon 1 & 2 closure

The two-unit Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant is the last operating nuclear power station in California. In the three-year period from 2013 – 2015, unit performance was as follows:

  • Diablo Canyon 1:     1,138 MWe @ 90.29%
  • Diablo Canyon 2:     1,151 MWe @ 88.19%

Diablo-Canyon-aerial-c-PGESource: PGE

On 21 June 2016, PGE issued a press release announcing that they will withdraw their application to the NRC for a 20-year license extension for the Diablo Canyon 1 & 2 nuclear power plants and will close these plants by 2025 when their current operating licenses expire.  PGE will walk away from about 41 GW-years of carbon-free electric power generation.

You can read the PGE press release at the following link:

https://www.pge.com/en/about/newsroom/newsdetails/index.page?title=20160621_in_step_with_californias_evolving_energy_policy_pge_labor_and_environmental_groups_announce_proposal_to_increase_energy_efficiency_renewables_and_storage_while_phasing_out_nuclear_power_over_the_next_decade

1.3. Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) decided to close Fort Calhoun

With a net output of about 476 MWe, Fort Calhoun is the smallest power reactor operating in the U.S. In 2006, the Fort Calhoun operating license was extended to 2033. This plant operates as part of a power cooperative and is not subject to the same market forces as merchant plants. Nonetheless, the price of electricity delivered to customers is still an important factor.

On 16 June 2016, the OPPD Board announced their decision to close Fort Calhoun by the end of 2016 and stated that the closure was based simply on economic factors: it was much cheaper to buy electricity on the wholesale market than to continue operating Fort Calhoun. It cost OPPD about $71 per megawatt-hour in 2015 to generate power at Fort Calhoun. This is double the national industry average of $35.50 and much more than the open market price of about $20 per megawatt-hour.

You can read more about the Fort Calhoun closure in the OPPD press release at the following link:

http://www.oppd.com/news-resources/news-releases/2016/june/oppd-board-votes-to-decommission-fort-calhoun-station/

1.4. Entergy announced plans to close the James A. FitzPatrick nuclear power plant

The license extension process for the 838 MWe James A. FitzPatrick nuclear power plant in upstate New York was completed in 2008 and the current operating license expires in October 2032. On 2 November 2015, Entergy announced plans to close the plant in late 2016 or early 2017 for economic reasons, primarily:

  • Sustained low current and long-term wholesale energy prices, driven by record low natural gas prices due to the plant’s proximity to the Marcellus shale formation, have reduced the plant’s revenues.
  • Flawed market design fails to recognize or adequately compensate nuclear generators for their benefits (i.e., large-scale 24/7 generation, contribution to grid reliability, carbon-free generation)
  • The plant carries a high cost structure because it is a single unit.
  • The region has excess power supply and low demand.

You can read the Entergy press release at the following link:

http://www.entergynewsroom.com/latest-news/entergy-close-jamesfitzpatrick-nuclear-power-plant-central-new-york/

1.5. New Your state is considering operating subsidies for nuclear power plants

Finally, here’s some good news. In July 2016, the New York Public Services Commission (PSC) announced that it was considering subsidies for nuclear power plants operating in the state:

“The Public Service Commission is considering a proposed component of the Clean Energy Standard (CES) to encourage the preservation of the environmental values or attributes of zero-emission nuclear-powered electric generating facilities for the benefit of the electric system, its customers and the environment.”

This proposal offers to award zero-emissions credits (ZEC) in six 2-year tranches, beginning 1 April 2017. The price to be paid for ZECs would be determined by a formula that includes published estimates of the social cost of carbon (SCC). Under the PSC staff’s approach, “the zero-emission attribute payments will never exceed the calculated value they produce.”

Details of the PSC staff’s proposed methodology for determining subsidies for nuclear power plants are in a document entitled “Staff’s Responsive Proposal for Preserving Zero-Emissions Attributes,” which you can download at the following link:

https://www.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=“Staff’s+Responsive+Proposal+for+Preserving+Zero-Emissions+Attributes%2C

A short article on the proposed subsidies was published on 12 July 2016 on the Power magazine website at the following link:

http://www.powermag.com/subsidies-proposed-for-new-yorks-upstate-nuclear-power-plants/

No doubt this approach to establishing zero-emissions credits for nuclear power plants will be closely watched by other states that are faced with this same issue of nuclear power plant early retirement for economic reasons. Hopefully, Entergy will reconsider its planned closure of the James A. FitzPatrick nuclear power plant.

2.  Fewer large, new Generation III advanced light water reactor plants are being built than expected

Since the start of the nuclear renaissance, 27 combined license (COL) applications were submitted to the NRC for construction and operation of new Gen III advanced light water reactor plants. You can see the current status of COLs for new reactors in the U.S. on the NRC’s website at the following link:

http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/new-reactors/col.html

A summary of the current COL status is as follows:

  • 7 withdrawn
  • 6 NRC review suspended
  • 7 under review
  • 7 issued (Fermi 3, South Texas Project 3 & 4, V. C. Summer 2 & 3, and Vogtle 3 & 4)

Recent actions are highlighted below.

2.1 Entergy withdrew its NRC license application for the River Bend unit 3 nuclear power plant

The NRC confirmed that, effective 21 June 2016, Entergy had withdrawn its application for a COL for a single unit of the General Electric Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR) at the River Bend site in Louisiana. This is the end of a series of delays initiated by Entergy. On 9 June 2009, Entergy requested that the NRC temporarily suspend the COL application review, including any supporting reviews by external agencies, until further notice.   The NRC granted this suspension. On 4 December 2015, Entergy Operations, Inc., filed to have their COL application withdrawn.

2.2 Three of the seven approved Gen III plants may never be built: Fermi-3 and STP 3 & 4.

  • Fermi 3: On 7 May 2015, NRC announced that the Fermi-3 COL had been issued. After the COL was issued, DTE Energy is reported to have said it has no immediate plans to build Fermi 3, and sought the approval as a long-term planning option. If built, Fermi 3 will be a GE-Hitachi ESBWR.
  • South Texas Project (STP) 3 & 4: In April 2015, NRG shelved plans to finance STP 3 & 4. NRG spokesman David Knox said, “The economics of new nuclear just don’t permit the construction of those units today.” Nonetheless, NRG continued the NRC review process and NRC issued the COLs for STP Units 3 and 4 on 12 February 2016. If built, STP 3 & 4 will be Toshiba Advanced Boiling Water Reactors (ABWRs).

2.3 Only four of the seven approved Gen III plants are actually under construction: V. C. Summer 2 & 3, and Vogtle 3 & 4.

So far, the net results of the nuclear renaissance in the U.S. are these four new Gen III plants, plus the resurrected Watts Bar 2 Gen II nuclear plant (construction stopped in 1980; not completed and operational until 2015).

  • C. Summer 2 & 3: Both units are under construction. These are Westinghouse AP-1000 PWR plants. In February 2016, South Carolina Electric and Gas Co. (SCE&G) reported that 85% of the major equipment necessary to build Units 2 and 3 was onsite. Most of the remaining equipment has been manufactured and was awaiting transport to the site.
  • Vogtle 3 & 4: Both units are both under construction. These are Westinghouse AP-1000 PWR plants. Southern Company provides an overview of their construction status at the following link:

http://www.southerncompany.com/what-doing/energy-innovation/nuclear-energy/photos.cshtml

 Vogtle constructionVogtle 3 & 4 under construction. Source: Southern Company

2.4. Good news: Blue Castle Holdings is planning a 2-unit AP-1000 plant in Utah

Blue Castle Holdings conducted a project overview “webinar” on July 21, 2016 to kickoff its contractor selection process for this new plant. The preliminary schedule calls for the start of work in 2020, “as permitted by the NRC.” This will be an important project to watch, since it may become the first new nuclear power plant project since the first round of applications at the start of the nuclear renaissance. You can read more about the Blue Castle plant at the following link:

http://www.bluecastleproject.com

3.  The prospects for small, modular reactors (SMRs) and advanced Generation IV reactors will not be realized for a long time

Currently there are no SMRs or Gen IV reactors in any stage of a licensing process that could lead to a generic design certification or a combined license (COL) for a specific plant.

On 7 – 8 June 2016, the DOE and NRC co-hosted a second workshop on advanced non-light water reactors, which was a follow-on to a similar workshop held in September 2015. You can read the summary report and access all of the presentation material from the June 2016 workshop at the following link:

http://www.nrc.gov/public-involve/conference-symposia/adv-rx-non-lwr-ws/2016-06.html

The DOE presentation by John E. Kelly entitled, “Vision and Strategy for the Development and Deployment of Advanced Reactors,” includes the following timeline that shows projected U.S. nuclear generating capacity for four scenarios.

  • The declining blue, brown and green curves show the generating capacity available from the existing fleet of power reactors depending on the length of their operating licenses (40, 60, or 80 years), and of course, assuming that there are few early plant closures for economic reasons.
  • The upper purple line represents total nuclear generating capacity needed to maintain nuclear at about 20% of the total U.S. generating capacity. Significant growth in demand is expected due to electrification of transportation and other factors, creating a demand for 200 GW of nuclear generated electricity by about 2050. This is double the current U.S. nuclear generating capacity!!

DOE addvanced reactor timelineSource: DOE

Among all the presentations in the 2016 workshop, there is no mention of where the capital comes from to build all of the new nuclear power plants needed to meet the expectation of 200 GW of nuclear generating capacity by 2050. If the expected economic advantages of SMRs and Gen IV plants fail to materialize, then construction cost per gigawatt of electrical generating capacity could be similar to current Gen III construction costs, which are on the order of $5 to 6 billion per gigawatt. This puts a price tag of $1.0 to 1.2 trillion on the deployment of 200 GW of new nuclear generating capacity. The actual amount isn’t particularly important. Just be aware that it’s a very big number. This leads me to believe that the above timeline is quite optimistic.

3.1. mPower SMR program has faltered

There was considerable optimism when the mPower program was launched more than a decade ago. This program probably is further along in its design and development processes than other U.S. SMR candidates. Unfortunately, mPower has been in decline for the past two years, during which time the mPower team head count fell from about 600 to less than 200 people. That reduction in force and slowdown in development occurred after the B&W board of directors (parent of BWXT) decided to reduce spending on mPower from about $100 million per year to a maximum of $15 million per year. The official explanation was that the company had failed in its effort to find additional major investors to participate in the project.

On 4 March 2016, there was good news to report when Bechtel and BWXT issued a press release announcing that they had reached an agreement to accelerate the development of the mPower SMR. No timeline was given for submitting an application for design certification to the NRC. You can read this press release at the following link:

http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/bechtel-bwxt-to-pursue-acceleration-of-small-modular-nuclear-reactor-project-300231048.html

On 13 May 2016, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) applied to the NRC for an early site permit for SMRs at the Clinch River site in Tennessee. In its application, TVA did not specify the reactor type, but previously had considered mPower for that site. The NRC is expected to decide in July 2016 if the application contains sufficient information to start the early site permit review process.

3.2. Other U.S. SMR candidates have not gotten beyond pre-application meetings with the NRC

The other U.S. SMR candidates are:

  • NuScale (NuScale Power, LLC)
  • SMR-160 (SMR Inventec, a Holtec International Company)
  • Integrated PWR (Westinghouse)

None have submitted an application for design certification to the NRC.

3.3. The DOE Generation IV (Gen IV) reactor program continues to slip

Gen IV reactors are intended to be the next generation of commercial power reactors, incorporating a variety of advanced technologies to deliver improved safety, reliability and economics.

The Generation IV International Forum (GIF) was created in January 2000 by 9 countries, and today has 13 members, all of which are signatories of the founding document, the GIF Charter. For basic information, you can download DOE’s Gen IV fact sheet at the following Argonne National Laboratory link:

http://www.ne.anl.gov/research/genIV/

On this fact sheet, you will find the following claim:

“Generation IV nuclear energy systems target significant advances over current-generation and evolutionary systems in the areas of sustainability, safety and reliability, and economics. These systems are to be deployable by 2030 in both industrialized and developing countries.”

You can view a more detailed 2014 presentation by the GIF at the following link:

https://www.gen-4.org/gif/upload/docs/application/pdf/2014-03/gif-tru2014.pdf

In this GIF presentation, you can see the significant schedule slip that has occurred between their 2002 and the 2013 roadmaps.

GIF Gen IV roadmap

Source: Gen IV International Forum

At the slow rate that DOE and its international GIF partners are actually making progress, I suspect that there will not even be a working Gen IV demonstration plant of any type before 2030, and certainly none in the U.S.

4. Important infrastructure facilities in the U.S. commercial reactor fuel cycle have been cancelled

Nuclear power plants are part of a fuel cycle, which for the U.S. has been a once-through (“throw-away”) fuel cycle since President Carter’s 7 April 1977 decision to discontinue work on a closed fuel cycle with nuclear fuel reprocessing. “Head-end” fuel cycle facilities include mining, milling, conversion, enrichment, and fuel manufacturing. These are the facilities that take uranium and/or plutonium from various sources and produce the desired nuclear fuel that is incorporated into the fuel elements that ultimately are installed in a reactor. “Back-end” fuel cycle facilities deal with the spent fuel elements and nuclear waste generated from reactor operation and other fuel cycle activities. In the once-through fuel cycle, the spent fuel is stored at the nuclear reactor where it was used until it can be transported to a nuclear waste repository for final disposition.

Two important nuclear fuel cycle facilities have been cancelled by the Obama administration: the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository and the Savannah River Mixed-oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility. These cancellations have the effect of adding cost and uncertainty for the utilities operating commercial power reactors.

4.1. DOE has not developed plans for a replacement for the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waster Repository

As is well known by now, the DOE abrogated its responsibility to develop a deep geologic site as the national commercial nuclear waste repository. Congress established this DOE role in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982. Yucca Mountain in Nevada was designated as the national repository site in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act amendments of 1987. Congress approved the Yucca Mountain project in 2002, and the project was docketed for licensing by the NRC in 2008, as Docket 63-001.

Yucca Mountain effectively was terminated in 2011 when the Obama administration removed funding for the project from the DOE budget. The NRC licensing process was suspended at the same time.

In August 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals (Wash DC) ruled that the NRC was obligated to continue their Yucca Mountain licensing process and either “approve or reject the Energy Department’s application for [the] never-completed waste storage site at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain.” Finally, in January 2015, the NRC staff completed the Safety Evaluation Report (SER) for Yucca Mountain, which is available at the following link:

http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/nuregs/staff/sr1949/

Here are the basis conclusions presented in the SER:

  • NRC staff finds that DOE’s application meets most, but not all, of the applicable NRC regulatory requirements.
    • Requirements not met are related to certain conditions of land ownership and water rights.
  • NRC staff therefore does not recommend issuance of a construction authorization at this time.

The current status of Yucca Mountain licensing is summarized in a January 2016 NRC presentation, “NRC Review Activities for the Proposed High-level Radioactive Waste Repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada,” which is available at the following link:

https://www.inmm.org/Content/NavigationMenu/Events/PastEvents/31stSpentFuelSeminar/W2-Rubenstone_INMM_DC_Jan2016.pdf

In this presentation, the author, James Rubenstone, identifies licensing actions still to be completed for the Yucca Mountain site and notes that, “Further progress of the review and licensing activities requires further appropriations.”   In March 2015, the NRC reported that completing its Yucca Mountain licensing process would cost an additional $330 million.

On 5 May 2016, the NRC issued the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) supplement for Yucca Mountain. This is not the end of the EIS process. There still remain about 300 contentions against the project that must be adjudicated. However, the adjudicatory process remains suspended.

In his January 2016 presentation, James Rubenstone also noted that, “New approaches for waste management and disposal have been proposed, but require dedicated funding and (in some cases) changes to existing law.”

So the bottom line is simply that this nation is very far, probably several decades, from having a national repository for commercial nuclear waste and spent nuclear fuel.

The burden for managing spent nuclear fuel remains with the U.S. nuclear utilities, which had been paying DOE for decades to develop the national nuclear waste repository. The current utility approach involves on-site management of spent fuel, initially in the spent fuel storage pool, and later in dry storage in canisters or casks that provide radiation shielding and protect the spent fuel from external hazards. These dry storage facilities typically are called Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installations (ISFSI). Nuclear utilities have added ISFSIs specifically to cope with the failure of DOE to complete the national nuclear waste repository as required by Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982.

You can find a good overview of ISFSI design and deployment at commercial power reactor sites on the NRC website at the following link:

http://www.nrc.gov/waste/spent-fuel-storage/dry-cask-storage.html

For those of you wanting more information on the Yucca Mountain project, I refer you to the recently published a two-volume, 920-page book entitled, “Waste of a Mountain,” by Michael Voegele and Donald Vieth. The book is on sale at the Pahrump Valley Museum with the proceeds going to the museum.  You’ll find the book at the following link:

http://pahrumpvalleymuseum.org/index.html

Waste of a MountainSource: Pahrump Valley Museum

4.2. DOE plans to halt construction of the Savannah River mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication facility (MFFF)

MFFFSource: DOE

The commitment to build the MOX facility is part of a 2000 agreement between the U.S. and Russia known as the amended U.S.-Russia Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA). The goal of PDMA is to neutralize 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium by using it in MOX fuel for commercial power reactors. In its FY-2017 budget proposal, DOE makes clear that MFFF will be terminated:

“Aerospace Corporation completed two reports documenting its assessment of the April 2014 analysis. Additionally, in June 2015 the Secretary of Energy assembled a Red Team to assess options for the disposition of surplus weapon-grade plutonium. These analyses confirm that the MOX fuel approach will be significantly more expensive than anticipated and will require approximately $800 million to $1 billion annually for decades. As a result, the FY 2017 budget proposes that the MOX project be terminated.”

Final termination is scheduled to be complete in fiscal year 2019.

Instead of MFFF, DOE will develop a “dilute and dispose” (D&D) process that involves storage of diluted plutonium in metal containers placed in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad, NM. This process will derive no economic value from the energy content of the weapons-grade plutonium.   You will find the complete DOE budget proposal at the following link:

http://energy.gov/cfo/downloads/fy-2017-budget-justification

Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said, “The reality of it is that without the MOX facility we cannot honor our agreement with the Russians.’’

4. In conclusion

The nuclear renaissance is over in the U.S. The expected long-term availability of low-price natural gas makes it difficult or impossible for nuclear power plants to generate electricity at a competitive price.

A future nuclear renaissance could be enabled if many states in this nation take the bold steps proposed by the New York Public Services Commission (PSC) to recognize the importance of nuclear power in the state’s generation portfolio and provide adequate financial incentives to nuclear utilities so they can operate profitably, extend the lives of existing nuclear plants, and build new nuclear plants.

 

 

Bio-fuel at Less Than Half the Price

1.  New process for manufacturing bio-fuel

The Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) is a Department of Energy (DOE) bioenergy research center dedicated to developing advanced bio-fuels, which are liquid fuels derived from the solar energy stored in plant biomass. Such fuels currently are replacing gasoline, diesel and jet fuels in selected applications.

On 1 July 2016, a team of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) and Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) scientists working at JBEI published a paper entitled, “CO2 enabled process integration for the production of cellulosic ethanol using bionic liquids.” The new process reported in this paper greatly simplifies the industrial manufacturing of bio-fuel and significantly reduces waste stream volume and toxicity as well as manufacturing cost.

The abstract provides further information:

“There is a clear and unmet need for a robust and affordable biomass conversion technology that can process a wide range of biomass feedstocks and produce high yields of fermentable sugars and bio-fuels with minimal intervention between unit operations. The lower microbial toxicity of recently developed renewable ionic liquids (ILs), or bionic liquids (BILs), helps overcome the challenges associated with the integration of pretreatment with enzymatic saccharification and microbial fermentation. However, the most effective BILs known to date for biomass pretreatment form extremely basic pH solutions in the presence of water, and therefore require neutralization before the pH range is acceptable for the enzymes and microbes used to complete the biomass conversion process. Neutralization using acids creates unwanted secondary effects that are problematic for efficient and cost-effective biorefinery operations using either continuous or batch modes.

We demonstrate a novel approach that addresses these challenges through the use of gaseous carbon dioxide to reversibly control the pH mismatch. This approach enables the realization of an integrated biomass conversion process (i.e., “single pot”) that eliminates the need for intermediate washing and/or separation steps. A preliminary technoeconomic analysis indicates that this integrated approach could reduce production costs by 50–65% compared to previous IL biomass conversion methods studied.”

 Regarding the above abstract, here are a couple of useful definitions:

  • Ionic liquids: powerful solvents composed entirely of paired ions that can be used to dissolve cellulosic biomass into sugars for fermentation.
  • Enzymatic saccharification: breaking complex carbohydrates such as starch or cellulose into their monosaccharide (carbohydrate) components, which are the simplest carbohydrates, also known as single sugars.

The paper was published on-line in the journal, Energy and Environmental Sciences, which you can access via the following link:

http://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlelanding/2016/ee/c6ee00913a#!divAbstract

Let’s hope they’re right about the significant cost reduction for bio-fuel production.

2.  Operational use of bio-fuel

One factor limiting the wide-scale use of bio-fuel is its higher price relative to the conventional fossil fuels it is intended to replace. The prospect for significantly lower bio-fuel prices comes at a time when operational use of bio-fuel is expanding, particularly in commercial airlines and in the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). These bio-fuel users want advanced bio-fuels that are “drop-in” replacements to traditional gasoline, diesel, or jet fuel. This means that the advanced bio-fuels need to be compatible with the existing fuel distribution and storage infrastructure and run satisfactorily in the intended facilities and vehicles without introducing significant operational or maintenance / repair / overhaul (MRO) constraints.

You will find a fact sheet on the DoD bio-fuel program at the following link:

http://www.americansecurityproject.org/dods-biofuels-program/

The “drop in” concept can be difficult to achieve because a bio-fuel may have different energy content and properties than the petroleum fuel it is intended to replace. You can find a Department of Energy (DOE) fuel properties comparison chart at the following link:

http://www.afdc.energy.gov/fuels/fuel_comparison_chart.pdf

Another increasingly important factor affecting the deployment of bio-fuels is that the “water footprint” involved in growing the biomass needed for bio-fuel production and then producing the bio-fuel is considerably greater than the water footprint for conventional hydrocarbon fuel extraction and production.

 A.  Commercial airline use of bio-fuel:

Commercial airlines became increasingly interested in alternative fuels after worldwide oil prices peaked near $140 in 2008 and remained high until 2014.

A 2009 Rand Corporation technical report, “Near-term Feasibility of Alternative Jet Fuels,” provides a good overview of issues and timescales associated with employment of bio-fuels in the commercial aviation industry. Important findings included:

  • Drop-in” fuels have considerable advantages over other alternatives as practical replacements for petroleum-based aviation fuel.
  • Alcohols do not offer direct benefits to aviation, primarily because high vapor pressure poses problems for high-altitude flight and safe fuel handling. In addition, the reduced energy density of alcohols relative to petroleum-based aviation fuel would substantially reduced aircraft operating capabilities and would be less energy efficient.
  • Biodiesel and biokerosene, collectively known as FAMEs, are not appropriate for use in aviation, primarily because they leave deposits at the high temperatures found in aircraft engines, freeze at higher temperatures than petroleum-based fuel, and break down during storage

You can download this Rand report at the following link

http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/technical_reports/2009/RAND_TR554.pdf

After almost two years of collaboration with member airlines and strategic partners, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) published the report, “IATA Guidance Material for Biojet Fuel Management,” in November 2012. A key finding in this document is the following:

“To be acceptable to Civil Aviation Authorities, aviation turbine fuel must meet strict chemical and physical criteria. There exist several specifications that authorities refer to when describing acceptable conventional jet fuel such as ASTM D1655 and Def Stan 91-91. At the time of issue, blends of up to 50% biojet fuel produced through either the Fischer-Tropsch (FT) process or the hydroprocessing of oils and fats (HEFA – hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids) are acceptable for use under these specifications, but must first be certified under ASTM D7566. Once the blend has demonstrated compliance with the relevant product specifications, it may be regarded as equivalent to conventional jet fuel in most applications.“

You can download this IATA document at the following link:

https://www.iata.org/publications/Documents/guidance-biojet-management.pdf

In 2011, KLM flew the world’s first commercial bio-fuel flight, carrying passengers from Amsterdam to Paris. Also in 2011, Aeromexico flew the world’s first bio-fuel trans-Atlantic revenue passenger flight, from Mexico City to Madrid.

In March 2015, United Airlines (UA) inaugurated use of bio-fuel on flights between Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO). Eventually, UA plans to expand the use of bio-fuel to all flights operating from LAX. UA is the first U.S. airline to use renewable fuel for regular commercial operation.

Many other airlines worldwide are in various stages of bio-fuel testing and operational use.

B.  U.S. Navy use of bio-fuel:

The Navy is deploying bio-fuel in shore facilities, aircraft, and surface ships. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has established a goal to replace half of the Navy’s conventional fuel supply with renewables by 2020.

In 2012, the Navy experimented with a 50:50 blend of traditional petroleum-based fuel and biofuel made from waste cooking oil and algae oil.   This blend was used successfully on about 40 U.S. surface ships that participated in the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise with ships of other nations. The cost of pure bio-fuel fuel for this demonstration was about $26.00 per gallon, compared to about $3.50 per gallon for conventional fuel at that time.

In 2016, the Navy established the “Great Green Fleet” (GGF) as a year-long initiative to demonstrate the Navy’s ability to transform its energy use.

Great Green Fleet logo          Source: U.S. Navy

The Navy described this initiative as follows:

“The centerpiece of the Great Green Fleet is a Carrier Strike Group (CSG) that deploys on alternative fuels, including nuclear power for the carrier and a blend of advanced bio-fuel made from beef fat and traditional petroleum for its escort ships. These bio-fuels have been procured by DON (Department of Navy) at prices that are on par with conventional fuels, as required by law, and are certified as “drop-in” replacements that require no engine modifications or changes to operational procedures.”

Deployment of the Great Green Fleet started in January 2016 with the deployment of Strike Group 3 and its flagship, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis. The conventionally-powered ships in the Strike Group are using a blend of 10% bio-fuel and 90% petroleum. The Navy originally aimed for a 50:50 ratio, but the cost was too high. The Navy purchased about 78 million gallons of blended bio-fuel for the Great Green Fleet at a price of $2.05 per gallon.

C.  U.S. Air Force use of bio-fuel:

The USAF has a goal of meeting half its domestic fuel needs with alternative sources by 2016, including aviation fuel.

The Air Force has been testing different blends of jet fuel and biofuels known generically as Hydrotreated Renewable Jet (HRJ). This class of fuel uses triglycerides and free fatty acids from plant oils and animal fats as the feedstock that is processed to create a hydrocarbon aviation fuel.

To meet its energy plan, the USAF plans to use a blend that combines military-grade fuel known as JP-8 with up to 50 percent HRJ. The Air Force also has certified a 50:50 blend of Fisher-Tropsch synthetic kerosene and conventional JP-8 jet fuel across its fleet.

The Air Force Civil Engineer Support Agency (AFCESA), headquartered at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida is responsible for certifying the USAF aviation fuel infrastructure to ensure its readiness to deploy blended JP-8/bio-fuel.

 

U.S. Reliance on Non-Fuel Mineral Imports

The U.S. Geologic Survey produces a series of mineral commodity annual reports and individual commodity data sheets. The web page for the index to these reports and data sheets is at the following link:

http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/mcs/

One particularly interesting document, with a very dull sounding title, is, Mineral Commodity Summaries 2015, which you can download for free at the following link:

http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/mcs/2015/mcs2015.pdf

This USGS report starts by putting the non-fuel mineral business sector in context with the greater U.S. economy. In the USGS chart below, you can see that the non-fuel mineral business sector makes up 13.5% of the U.S. economy. By dollar volume, net imports of processed mineral materials make up only a small portion (about 1.6%) of the non-fuel mineral business.

USGS role of minerals in the economy

In the, Mineral Commodity Summaries 2015, USGS also identified the U.S. reliance on non-fuel minerals imports. Their chart for 2014 is reproduced below.

USGS Net Import Reliance

Many of the above non-fuel minerals have very important uses in high-value products created in other business sectors.  A good summary table on this matter appears in the National Academies Press report entitled, Emerging Workforce Trends in the U.S. Energy and Mining Industries: A Call to Action, published in August 2015. You can view or download this report for free at the following link:

http://www.nap.edu/new/

In this report, refer to Table 2.5, Common or Essential Products and Some of Their Mineral Components.

Among the minerals with very important roles in modern electrical and electronic components and advanced metals is the family of rare earths, which is comprised of the 17 elements highlighted in the periodic table, below:

  • the 15 members of the Lanthanide series from 57La (Lanthanum) to 71Lu (Lutetium), and
  • the two Transitional elements 21Sc (Scandium) and 39Y (Yttrium).

Periodic Table - Rare Earths

Source: www.rareelementresources.com/

In the above 2014 import reliance chart, USGS reported that the U.S. continued to be a net importer of rare earth minerals (overall, 59% reliant), and that for Scandium the U.S was 100% reliant on imports.

In the Mineral Commodity Summaries 2015, USGS reported the following usage of rare earth minerals in the U.S.:

  • General uses: catalysts, 60%; metallurgical applications and alloys, 10%; permanent magnets, 10%; glass polishing, 10%; and other, 10%.
  • Scandium principal uses: solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) and aluminum-scandium alloys. Other uses are in ceramics, electronics, lasers, lighting, and radioactive isotopes used as a tracing agent in oil refining

China became the world’s dominant producer of rare earths in the 1990s, replacing U.S. domestic producers, none of which could not compete economically with the lower prices offered by the Chinese producers.

On March 22, 2015, the CBS TV show 60 Minutes featured a segment on the importance of rare earth elements and underscored the need to ensure a domestic supply chain of these critical minerals. You can view this segment at the following link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N1HiX0HiAuo

In December 2011, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) issued a report entitled Critical Materials Strategy, which you can download for free at the following link:

http://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/DOE_CMS2011_FINAL_Full.pdf

The summary results of the DOE “criticality assessment” are reproduced below

“Sixteen elements were assessed for criticality in wind turbines, EVs (electric vehicles), PV (photovoltaic) cells and fluorescent lighting. The methodology used was adapted from one developed by the National Academy of Sciences. The criticality assessment was framed in two dimensions: importance to clean energy and supply risk. Five rare earth elements (REEs)—dysprosium, terbium, europium, neodymium and yttrium—were found to be critical in the short term (present–2015). These five REEs are used in magnets for wind turbines and electric vehicles or phosphors in energy-efficient lighting. Other elements—cerium, indium, lanthanum and tellurium—were found to be near-critical. Between the short term and the medium term (2015– 2025), the importance to clean energy and supply risk shift for some materials (Figures ES-1 and ES-2).”

DOE Critical Materials Strategy

While the results of the DOE criticality assessment focused on importance to the energy sector, the identified mineral shortages will impact all business sectors that depend on these minerals, including consumer electronics and national defense.

Further insight on the importance of rare earths is provided by an annual report to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence entitled, U.S. Intelligence Community Worldwide Threat Assessment Statement for the Record. The report delivered on March 12, 2013 highlighted the national security threat presented by China’s monopoly on rare earth elements. You can download that report at the following link:

https://www.hsdl.org/?view&did=732599

The 2013 threat assessment offered the following perspective on the strategic importance of rare earth minerals:

“Rare earth elements (REE) are essential to civilian and military technologies and to the 21st century global economy, including development of green technologies and advanced defense systems. China holds a commanding monopoly over world REE supplies, controlling about 95 percent of mined production and refining. China’s dominance and policies on pricing and exports are leading other countries to pursue mitigation strategies, but those strategies probably will have only limited impact within the next five years and will almost certainly not end Chinese REE dominance.”

 While the above focus has been on rare earths, the discussion serves to illustrate that the U.S. is dependent on importing many minerals that are very important to the national economy.

 

 

 

 

Bacteria Could Help Clean Groundwater Contaminated With Uranium

On 15 June 2015, Rutgers University announced the discovery in uranium-contaminated groundwater of bacteria that can breathe uranium and employ it in a reduction chemical reaction that immobilizes the uranium and thereby removes it from solution in the groundwater. Professor Lee Kerkhof, in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, leads the Rutgers team that is working with U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) researchers on this project.

The bacteria were discovered in soil at an old uranium ore mill site in Rifle, Colorado, almost 200 miles west of Denver. The bacteria of interest are from a common class known as betaproteobacteria.

Rifle CO uranium mill siteThe Rifle, CO site today. Source: news.slac.stanford.edu

The Rutgers University announcement states:

 “This bacterium can breathe either oxygen or uranium to drive the chemical reactions that provide life-giving energy”.

 “Exactly how the strain evolved, Kerkhof said, ‘we are not sure.’ But, he explained, bacteria have the ability to pass genes to each other. So just like bacteria pick up resistance to things like antibiotics and heavy metal toxicity, this bacterium ‘picked up a genetic element that’s now allowing it to detoxify uranium, to actually grow on uranium.’ “

You can read the Rutgers University announcement at the following link:

http://news.rutgers.edu/research-news/bacteria-could-help-clean-groundwater-contaminated-uranium-ore-processing-rutgers-study-finds/20150614#.VZcuR4sUyOI

You can read the April 2015 Rutgers paper, Spatial Distribution of an Uranium-Respiring Betaproteobacterium at the Rifle, CO Field Research Site, at the following link:

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0123378

An earlier paper published in October 2011, entitled, Influence of Uranium on Bacterial Communities: A Comparison of Natural Uranium-Rich Soils with Controls, identified Acidobacteria, Proteobacteria, and seven others phyla in uraniferous samples. This French study, supported by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, concluded that:

 “…our results demonstrate that uranium exerts a permanent high pressure on soil bacterial communities and suggest the existence of a uranium redox cycle mediated by bacteria in the soil.”

You can read the paper written by the French team at the following link:

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0025771

 

Update on Supercomputer Performance and Development

The TOP500 project was launched in 1993 to implement an improved statistical process for benchmarking the performance of large general purpose computer systems and maintain a list of the 500 most powerful general purpose computer systems in the world based on benchmark test results. The TOP500 website is at:

http://www.top500.org

The TOP500 list ranks computers by their performance on a LINPAC Benchmark test to solve a dense system of linear equations. While this performance metric does not reflect overall performance of a given system, the systematic application of this benchmark test provides a good measure of peak performance and enables a meaningful relative ranking.

The TOP500 list is updated in June and November each year. Tianhe-2 (Milky Way), a supercomputer developed by China’s National University of Defense Technology has maintained the top position in four consecutive TOP500 lists with a performance of 33.86 petaflop/s (quadrillions of calculations per second), using 17.8 MW (megawatts) of electric power. The growth in supercomputer performance over the past 20 years is shown in the following chart:

TOP500 Supercomputer Chart Source: TOP500

You can access the November 2014 TOP500 list at the following link:

http://www.top500.org/list/2014/11/

On 9 April 2015, the U.S. Department of Energy announced a $200 million investment to deliver a next-generation U.S. supercomputer, known as Aurora, to the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility (ALCF) near Chicago. Read the DOE announcement at the following link:

http://energy.gov/articles/us-department-energy-awards-200-million-next-generation-supercomputer-argonne-national

Intel will work with Cray Inc. as the Aurora system integrator sub-contracted to provide its scalable system expertise together with its proven supercomputing technology and the HPC (Hewlett Packard) software stack. Aurora will be based on a next-generation Cray supercomputer, code-named “Shasta,” a follow-on to the Cray® XC™ series. Aurora is expected to have a peak performance of 180 petaflop/s. When commissioned in 2018, this supercomputer will be open to all scientific users.

Argonne and Intel will also provide an interim system, called Theta, to be delivered in 2016, which will help ALCF users transition their applications to the new technology to be used in Aurora.

DOE earlier announced a $325 million investment to build new, state-of-the-art supercomputers at its Oak Ridge and Lawrence Livermore laboratories.

Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (RTG) for Spacecraft: History and Current U.S. Pu-238 Production Status

Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (RTG), also called Radioisotope Power Systems (RTS), commonly use non-weapons grade Plutonium 238 (Pu-238) to generate electric power and heat for National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) spacecraft when solar energy and batteries are not adequate for the intended mission.

Approximately 300 kg (661 lb) of Pu-238 was produced by the Department of Energy (DOE) at the Savannah River Site between 1959 – 1988. After U.S production stopped, the U.S. purchased Pu-238 from Russia until that source of supply ended in 2010.

Limited production of new Pu-238 in the U.S re-started in 2013 using the process shown below. This effort is partially funded by NASA.  Eventually, production capacity will be about 1.5 kg (3.3 lb) Pu-238 per year. The roles of the DOE national laboratories involved in this production process are as follows:

  • Idaho National Engineering Lab (INEL):
    • Store the Neptunium dioxide (NpO2) feed stock
    • Deliver feed stock as needed to ORNL
    • Irradiate targets provided by ORNL in the Advanced Test Reactor (ATR)
    • Return irradiated targets to ORNL for processing
  • Oak Ridge National Lab (ORNL):
    • Manufacture targets
    • Ship some targets to INEL for irradiation
    • Irradiate the remaining targets in the High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR)
    • Process all irradiated targets to recover and purify Pu-238
    • Convert Pu-238 to oxide and deliver as needed to LANL
  • Los Alamos National Lab (LANL):
    • Manufacture the Pu-238 fuel pellets for use in RTGs

Pu-238 production process

Diagram source: Ralph L McNutt, Jr, Johns Hopkins University APL, 2014

The U.S. has an existing inventory of  about 35 kg (77 lb) of Pu-238 of various ages.  About half is young enough to meet the power specifications of planned NASA spacecraft. The remaining stock is more than 20 years old, has decayed significantly since it was produced, and does not meet specifications.   The existing inventory will be blended with newly produced Pu-238 to extend the usable inventory. To get the energy density needed for space missions while extending the supply of Pu-238, DOE and NASA plan to blend “old” Pu-238 with newly produced Pu-238 in 2:1 proportions.

NASA slowly has been developing an Advanced Stirling Radioisotope Generator (ASRG), which should be capable of producing about four times the power of older RTGs per unit of Pu-238. However, the ASRG produces less waste heat, which can be used productively to warm electronics in the interior of a spacecraft, such as the Mars rover Curiosity. The ASRG may not be available in time for the next space mission requiring an RTG power source, in which case an existing RTG design will be used.

Read a history of RTGs and more information on current U.S. Pu-238 production status in a 2014 presentation by Ralph L McNutt, Jr, at the following link:

http://www.lpi.usra.edu/sbag/meetings/jan2014/presentations/08_1545_McNutt_Pu238_SBAG.pdf

9 February 2016 Update

On 22 December 2015, DOE reported production of 50 grams of new Pu-238.

DOE reported that it plans to set an initial production target of 300 – 400 grams (about 12 ounces) of Pu-238 per year. After implementing greater automation and scaling up the process, ORNL expects to reach the the production target of 1.5 kg (3.3 lb) Pu-238 per year.

The next NASA mission that will use an RTG is the Mars 2020 rover, which will use the same Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (MMRTG) as used on NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity. MMRTG can provide about 110 watts of electrical power to a spacecraft and its science instruments at the beginning of a mission.

You can read the ORNL announcement of initial Pu-238 production at the following link:

https://www.ornl.gov/news/ornl-achieves-milestone-plutonium-238-sample

 

History of the DOE National Laboratories

Many at SAIC worked at or for one or more DOE national laboratories at some point in their careers.   The following link to the DOE Office of Scientific & Technical Information (OSTI) web site provides links to other web sites with historical information on the various national labs.

http://www.osti.gov/accomplishments/nuggets/historynatlabs.html

For example, on this OSTI web page, you can select the Idaho National Laboratory link, and a pop-up menu will display the available documents.  If you select, “Proving the Principle: A History of the Idaho Engineering and Environmental Laboratory, 1949 – 1999,” this will take you to an INL web site that includes a 25 chapter history + a 2000 – 2010 addendum, all organized for chapter-by-chapter web access.

I hope you find some something of interest via the OSTI website.