Monday, September 11, 2023

C&EN: Dow planning for nuclear reactors to power chemical plants

In this week's C&EN, this pretty cool story about nuclear power in the chemical industry (article by Craig Bettenhausen): 

Supplying electricity to the power grid is likely the biggest market for new nuclear installations. But industrial companies like Dow, the largest US chemical maker, also see emerging nuclear technology as a perfect fit for their manufacturing plants, both to replace aging fossil-powered heat sources and to power the production of hydrogen and other clean fuels. The size of SMRs, generally 300 MW or smaller, is a good match for the energy needs of heavy industry, and their road through regulation and construction may be smoother than that of their grid-scale counterparts.

Dow plans to repower its massive complex in Seadrift, Texas, with a set of four SMRs from the nuclear technology firm X-Energy. The Seadrift plant makes polyethylene, ethylene oxide, ethylene glycol, ethanolamines, and glycol ethers for many end markets. Each reactor has an output that is adjustable between 80 MW of electricity and 200 MW of heat.

Kreshka Young, Dow’s North America business director for energy and climate, says the SMR quartet will be the sole power source for the Seadrift plant, where it will replace a boiler fueled by natural gas. The boiler system, which Young says emits 440,000 metric tons of CO2 per year, is scheduled for retirement in the early 2030s.

There's quite a debate in the article, with the public policy folks being pretty darn skeptical about nuclear power and engineers being more hopeful. Gotta say, those reactors seem pretty neat.*

*maybe I'm one of the more hopeful types


  1. As a Texan, we can't even manage safety regulation for regular chemical plant/ oil gas stuff (Shell Deerpark fire this May. BP oil spill. Etc.) Especially when we have natural disasters (Arkema plant fire in Hurrricane Harvey). This will look fine on paper, but be a mess in real lfe. If Japan couldn't get Fukushima right in a culture where people are more compliant to accepting orders, it isn't going to work in a place where every cowbro thinks they can make their own rules and every politician is for sale.

  2. Concentrated solar power plants can generate >500 MW.

  3. There's still an issue of what to do with waste as well. Also, if companies aren't great at safety because it costs too much, even when they kill their employees, are they going to be better at handling something that (if they mess up) might render the site unusable and uninhabitable for many years? I think the technology could be useful because scale is one reason nuclear plants are expensive, but I am skeptical about their ability to manage it. - Hap


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