Bill Gates’ Nuclear Venture Plans Reactor To Complement Solar, Wind Power Boom

A nuclear energy venture founded by Bill Gates said Thursday it hopes to build small advanced nuclear power stations that can store electricity to supplement grids increasingly supplied by intermittent sources like solar and wind power. Reuters reports:
The effort is part of the billionaire philanthropist’s push to help fight climate change, and is targeted at helping utilities slash their emissions of planet-warming gases without undermining grid reliability. TerraPower LLC, which Gates founded 14 years ago, and its partner GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, plan to commercialize stations called Natrium in the United States later this decade, TerraPower’s President and Chief Executive Chris Levesque said.

Levesque said the companies are seeking additional funding from private partners and the U.S. Energy Department, and that the project has the support of PacifiCorp, owned by billionaire Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, along with Energy Northwest and Duke Energy. If successful, the plan is to build the plants in the United States and abroad, Levesque said. By 2050 “we would see hundreds of these reactors around the world, solving multiple different energy needs,” Levesque said. The 345-megawatt plants would be cooled by liquid sodium and cost about $1 billion each.

The new plants […] are designed to complement a renewable power because they will store the reactor power in tanks of molten salt during days when the grid is well supplied. The nuclear power could be used later when solar and wind power are low due to weather conditions. Molten salt power storage has been used at thermal solar plants in the past, but leaks have plagued some of the projects. Levesque said the Natrium design would provide more consistent temperatures than a solar plant, resulting in less wear and tear.

Scientists Propose Destroying Mountains To Build a New Type of Battery For Long-Term Energy Storage

One of the big challenges of making 100 percent renewable energy [sic] a reality is long-term storage,” says Julian Hunt, an engineering scientist at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria. Hunt and his collaborators have devised a novel system to complement lithium-ion battery use for energy storage over the long run: Mountain Gravity Energy Storage, or MGES for short. Similar to hydroelectric power, MGES involves storing material at elevation to produce gravitational energy. The energy is recovered when the stored material falls and turns turbines to generate electricity. The group describes its system in a paper published November 6 in Energy.

“Instead of building a dam, we propose building a big sand or gravel reservoir,” explains Hunt. The key to MGES lies in finding two mountaintop sites that have a suitable difference in elevation — 1,000 meters is ideal. “The greater the height difference, the cheaper the technology,” he says. The sites will look similar, with each comprised of a mine-like station to store the sand or gravel, and a filling station directly below it. Valves release the material into waiting vessels, which are then transported via cranes and motor-run cables to the upper site. There, the sand or gravel is stored — for weeks, months, or even years — until it’s ready to be used. When the material is moved back down the mountain, that stored gravitational energy is released and converted into electrical energy.

Not only is the system more environmentally friendly [sic] than pumped-storage hydropower and dams, but it’s more flexible to meet varying energy demands.

“Hunt estimates that the annual cost of storing energy via this system will vary between $50 to $100 per megawatt hour (MWh),” the report adds. “And he says that the energy expended to transport materials to the upper sits will be offset by the amount of gravitational energy the system produces.”