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Small modular reactors could hold key to electrifying heavy transport: Michigan study

Distributed energy resources, including nuclear, can help affordably reduce emissions associated with heavy-duty vehicles, relative to building traditional grid infrastructure.

Distributed solar, energy storage and small modular reactors in particular may hold the key to economically electrifying the heavy transport sector, according to a study supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory.

The study considered nuclear small modular reactors sized up to 300 MW, and microreactors with capacities from 1 MW to 20 MW, collectively as SMRs.

Using distributed energy resources to power trucking and fleets, particularly in areas where there is limited grid capacity, could generate annual cost savings of almost $2 billion across the U.S., according to the University of Michigan study, which was funded by INL’s Emerging Energy Markets Analysis initiative.

The small size of an SMR “grants them greater siting flexibility than conventional nuclear plants,” researchers found, “and their construction can occur via mass fabrication, potentially enabling large cost reductions through economies of number and component-based learning.”

“We developed a model that looked at minimizing costs of meeting heavy-duty vehicle energy demands by optimizing investments in distributed energy sources,” An Pham, a postdoctoral fellow at Michigan and author of the study, said in a Tuesday statement.

Heavy-duty vehicles were the fastest growing source of global oil demand for the last two decades, according to the research, and accounted for about 40% of greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector globally.

This analysis “answers the question, how do we practically transition heavy transport paradigms and what technologies might provide the best value long-term,” said Steve Aumeier, senior advisor of INL’s strategic programs. “With the new deployment frameworks that small nuclear reactors provide, the study shows how these might be a very valuable part of the strategy.”

The study looked at fleets of heavy-duty vehicles ranging from 100% electric to 60% electric and 40% hydrogen-fueled. Researchers found “significant potential” for the development of SMRs to power electrified shipping in 2040, making up 99% of the deployed DER capacity.

“These results demonstrate that DERs, particularly SMRs, can be an integral part of a least-cost pathway for serving emerging [heavy-duty vehicle] charging demand,” the paper found.

Under the model, DERs, including the reactors, are deployed at 78% to 95% of all charging stations and meet between 24% and 30% of total heavy-duty vehicle energy demand.

Investments in DERs reduce annual costs by $647 million to $1.9 billion across all stations, while individual stations can save $20 million to over $100 million annually” according to the study abstract.

Source: Utility Dive