Recycling CO₂ in U.S. Navy with SMR (Small Modular Reactors) – Don Larson

Recycling CO₂ in U.S. Navy with SMR (Small Modular Reactors) – Don Larson


The topic today is small modular reactors
and recycling carbon dioxide in the US Navy. I really want to hit on this one. We’re not
talking about abating carbon dioxide. I’m not talking about reducing carbon dioxide. Let’s recycle CO2 and let’s use it over and
over again. Small modular reactors actually are a reality today. They’re used by aircraft
carriers. They’re used on submarines. For those of you who are ex-Navy guys like me,
they were used in the cruisers. They’re all gone. Personal family history, my father served
on the USS Long Beach and I was on the USS Mississippi. In 500 feet of ship, we had two
small modular reactors that took care of everything. By the way, we put millions of miles on that
guy. I don’t think a site license was necessary for those reactors. [laughter] I seem to recall we took them wherever we
wanted in the world as long as it stayed wet underneath our feet. Notably, one that I really
want to bring up to everybody is that name. No, I’m not talking about James Kirk. I’m
talking about the USS Enterprise. She had eight reactors on board. It was the A2W and
David, where are you in the room here? I do believe that that W stands for Westinghouse.
Small modular reactors can be built and they can be added in modules. This is historical
fact, not a theoretic possibility. A navy goes through enormous amounts of liquid
fuels. Just incredible quantities, and there’s an entire mix of them. From gasoline and bunker
fuel, diesel, and JP-5. It just goes on and on and on, the number of fuels that the Navy
bills. The last data I’ve got in the public record
is from fiscal year 2013. Between procuring and delivering fuel to the fleet at sea, the
Navy was paying about $6.60 a gallon. That is more than we pay at the pump today. That’s
a loaded cost folks. In that year, they bought about 540 million
gallons for a total of $3.5 billion. Much more important however than those numbers
is that there are very serious logistics and on station issues. The oiler, out with the battle groups is constantly
going up to the aircraft carrier and filling her tanks full of gas so they can keep the
planes in the air. Then she circulates among the rest of the battle group except for one
other asset, which is about 300 feet under the water. Everybody else is taking a drink from the
oiler. As soon as the oiler is out of gas, she leaves. She goes into some really unpleasant
places, like Aden and other parts in the world where they’re not really nice to us. It fills up with as much gas as it can get
as quickly as possible, actually, a variety of fuels. It has to race back out to the battle
group in order to keep everybody else out there drinking, except for the carrier. It
still needs fuels for the aircraft and for that one asset that is under the water. Everybody else in the battle group is dependent
upon the oiler for them to keep moving. That’s the business case. It’s not fundamentally
about the money. It’s logistics and on station issues. However, $3.5 billion in spend is
not trivial. What’s our opportunity? The Navy has plenty
of small modular reactors. They are really good at them. Depending on where you want
to look at the literature supposedly they’re on the 15th generation of small modular reactor
in the Navy today. We’re not talking Gen4, Gen15 out in the fleet.
There are lots of seawater around them, and we have this shortage of liquid transportation
fuels. The obvious business opportunity is how do we de-couple the fleet from shore-based
fuel? The answer unfortunately is not to make every
other ship in the battle group nuclear powered. Because as Mike pointed out, there is nothing
that you can do except put liquid transportation fuels into all the airplanes. It’s not just the carrier that’s got them.
Virtually everybody else in the fleet has got a small hangar deck in the back. The heels
are going up and down and doing all sorts of vital missions. This the work that’s actually going on at
NRL today. This is not a theoretical possibility. The ocean or rivers, as it’s pointed out,
is full of carbon dioxide and hydrogen. There’s lots of this everywhere on the planet. In
fact seven-tenths of the earth’s surface is covered with water. We are looking at here at the electrolytic
cation exchange module. This is on version three. Here’s the skid that’s used down at
Naval Air Station Key West. What’s going on is pretty simple. We’re pumping electricity
into this module up here. We’re pulling carbonic acid, HCO3, out of
the water. By the way, per unit gallon we get about a 92 percent removal from it. Then
we’re using standard electrolysis to crack water in order to make hydrogen. What do you do with it? Steve was pointing
out all the other neat processes as he was talking about with high temperature. You string
the carbon together with your hydrogen, and let’s get into the fuels business. It’s actually
been very successful. Here is the spectrum for JP-5, which is the
standard fuel used to run all the aircraft. For those of you who can read it, this looks
a bit like a classic bell curve. What you’re seeing is the spectrum based upon carbon content
of the individual hydrocarbons as you make this guy out of oil. This is anybody. Exxon, BP, Shell, whoever
you want to name it pulling petroleum out of the ground, fractionally distilling it,
and making JP-5 according to the mil spec. What happens coming out of our machine down
at Naval Air Station Key West? Now look at this, we’ve got a decay curve.
Because we’re manufacturing the fuels synthetically we’re able to control the carbon content and
get a better concentration of the C10 hydrocarbons that we want than you can get from actual
natural gasoline. Natural JP-5 made from natural oil. What this
turns out is that the synthetically made aviation fuel actually has a higher energy density
and is cleaner. It doesn’t have the sulfur compounds in it, it doesn’t have the nitrates
in it. All of the really nasty stuff that comes out
of burning a fossil fuel we don’t have, and we have a better power density profile making
this stuff artificial. If you can do just basic high school chemistry, if we can get
hydrogen and CO2 from seawater you have the fundamental building blocks right there for
making any hydrocarbon fuel you want. In fact, think of what you’ve got at the pump.
Although it wasn’t on the slide, what’s the rating on the gas pump where you filled your
car? It’s its octane rating, C8. The Navy is using something higher up the fuel curve. This is not a theoretical possibility. This
is a toy airplane, it’s not a real airplane, I admit it. However, you’re looking at it
in the air flying on fuel that was made from seawater and electricity. Mike, you pointed
out that in the UK, the worst part of the tail end curve for 2050 is what do you do
about civilian aviation? Are we going to move to a world where only
the highest of our elected officials get to run an airplane and fly around the world when
the rest of us get to walk? Because there is no substitute for aviation fuel if you
want to get in the air. We’re not going to have solar powered aircraft.
We’re not going to have hydrogen fuel powered aircraft anytime soon. We’re looking at some
total radical technology breakthrough if you want to fly. Economics. Here’s the data that’s in the paper
out of NRL. Here’s a breakdown looking at a commercial nuclear plant, looking at capital
costs on it. Commercial, nuclear coupled together we’re trying to make synthetic fuels and then
a standard Navy light water pressurized water reactor. You can see the cost differences change. I
won’t bother to read through the whole tables on you but let’s get down to the bottom and
look at total cost operation per kilowatt- hour. However you want to build your assumptions,
seven cents a kilowatt-hour should be very reasonable number for anybody in this room
to believe. What does that turn to then in our cost in order to make aviation fuel? In this case, on the commercial side, we’re
looking at something approaching six bucks a gallon. Use in the Navy light water reactor,
which obviously has a slightly different cost structure, their compliance costs are very
different than a commercial plant. Let’s just admit it. This is not an apples
to apples comparison for what can be done in the commercial world economically, but
it shows what’s possible. $2.90 a gallon delivered to the fleet, making fuel at sea. Making it artificial, completely decoupled
from the petroleum market. First off, again, big takeaway, even from a Rolls Royce [inaudible
08:55] , SMRs are a reality. They’re not in the civilian world today. But SMRs are a reality
on the planet right now. They really are. There are viable business cases that exist
outside of electricity generation. Steve actually did a very good job of talking about it some
months previously. Navy reactors by the way, speaking from experience being out at sea,
they make lots of really nice fresh water. There was nothing better than getting off
of the bridge watch heading down towards my stateroom and seeing the auxiliaries’ officer.
He says, “Don? We got to dump fresh water. The tanks are full. When you take your shower,
just let it run. It doesn’t matter today.” I think, “Hallelujah, it’s not a 30-second
shower.” I was ecstatic when we had tons of fresh desalinated water. Think about the ramifications
of this. Economics and politics really are crucial for us driving the industry here.
This is a green policy. I’m talking about a carbon neutral aviation
industry. The hydrocarbonic acid in the ocean is in equilibrium with the CO2 in the atmosphere.
It’s a very simple task. Seal up the fish tank, fill saltwater in the bottom, don’t
let any air into it. Run your probes in there, pull carbonic acid
out of the bottom. Read your CO2 level on the air above it and watch the CO2 level in
the atmosphere drop. Every time you take a piece of carbon out of the ocean it is the
same as taking it out of the atmosphere. It will pass from the air into the water.
When you send an aircraft up in the air and it’s running on fuel you made by taking carbonic
acid out of the ocean, you have a virtual carbon cycle. You are not adding CO2 at all.
It’s carbon-free jet fuel that is carbon and burns in our existing engines. It’s a green policy. Then there are some geopolitical
ramifications to separating transportation fuels from oil that’s pulled out of the ground.
I won’t go any deeper into that. I’m sure your imaginations can run on that just as
well as mine can. Last inclusion I want to put on there is obviously
this needs to be scaled. The next module is going to be the EC4. They’re looking at a
substantial cost reduction per kilowatt-hour on their hydrogen production. Also in order
to get into commercial, it’s got to be scaled and made robust. There are some engineering
issues to tackle here. Last but not least, to my personal favorite
on the MSR side, this is entirely with electricity generation. Give me David’s reactor that runs
400 degrees hotter even if it’s all electricity generation. Carnot cycle tells me with TH
up here and TC down here, I’m going to get better electricity production. I’m going to
have more energy I can put into this guy. Better, let’s go Steve’s route. Let’s use
high temperature molten salts to directly disassociate the hydrogen from the oxygen
in the water and let’s take electrolysis out of it. Now we’re driving those fuel production cost
numbers down even further. In the very short term is anybody going to put one of these
just outside of New Orleans next to an existing oil refinery? It’s not going to happen. With the price of oil today per barrel, if
you’re anywhere near a serious oil resource, oil out of the ground is still cheaper. There
are however a lot of places in the world and other business cases where you’re nowhere
near a refinery. You’re nowhere near a source of oil. Think of Hawaii and other places where everything’s
got to be brought in completely on ships in order to support the island. Other places,
in remote parts of Africa, the coastline there, any place where you are disconnected from
the petroleum industry, you drop a reactor in with one of these plants. You’re in a new phase, which I like to call
CFP instead of combined heat and power, this guy has combined fuel and power. Wouldn’t
it be great to make electricity all day long and make fuel all night long? Now your reactor’s
running 100 percent, 24/7, 365, meeting your needs. Ladies and gentlemen, that’s my end. Dr. Rosenman, take us home. [applause]

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