The US Administration has issued a new report, “US Innovation to Meet 2050 Climate Goals: Assessing Initial R&D Opportunities,” setting out initial priorities that will enable it to reach net-zero by 2050. The 26-page White House report identifies five initial priorities to help the USA meet the goal of cutting greenhouse gases by 50-52% by 2030 and to achieve net-zero no later than 2050. These are:

Efficient Building Heating and Cooling, including refrigerants with low global warming potential;Net-Zero Aviation, cost-competitive with conventional aviation, including electric and hybrid aircraft and sustainable aviation fuels production;Net-Zero Power Grid and Electrification, including advanced transmission and distribution systems;Fusion Energy at Scale, cost-competitive with conventional energy; andIndustrial Products and Fuels for a Net-Zero, Circular Economy, including secure supply chains and alternative pathways for producing low-carbon steel, aluminium, cement, chemicals, industrial heat, clean water, and electrofuels.

The report focuses on identifying emerging technologies that hold promise to change the game on the path to a net-zero economy by 2050. Game changers include:

New Technologies: Technologies or approaches with no current commercial adoption that use physical, chemical, biological, or other processes in new ways to produce energy or provide an energy service (e.g. fusion energy).Significantly Improved Technologies: Disruptive changes in existing technologies or approaches that will make scale-up and deployment significantly more efficient, cheaper, and faster (e.g. direct air capture or efficient water treatment processes).Critical Enabling Technologies: Novel technologies or approaches that facilitate the integration of New or Significantly Improved technologies into the energy system (e.g. distributed energy resource management).Multi-Objective Technologies: New, Significantly Improved, or Critical Enabling technologies that simultaneously enable the transition to net-zero emissions and significantly improve supply chains, energy security, equitable energy access, or some other weakness in the existing technology or approach (e.g. advanced battery chemistries, supply chains, and recycling).

The section on Electricity Generation Innovation includes a small sub-section on nuclear power – the only mention in the report. It says: “Advanced fission reactors incorporate numerous innovations relative to existing nuclear plants, including: smaller sizing (including small modular reactors and microreactors); additional safety features such as alternative coolants, accident-tolerant fuels, and digital controls; and reductions in nuclear waste volumes and decay periods.

“Advanced fission reactors require low amounts of area per megawatt and the siting does not depend on availability of local energy resources such as sun or wind. As a result, advanced fission reactors could directly replace emitting firm generation sources, thereby potentially reducing the need for transmission expansion and providing a new source of jobs for legacy energy communities. As heat sources with wide ranges of possible sizes and temperatures, they can serve the specific needs of hard-to-abate industrial sectors such as petroleum refining, chemicals, and steel.

“Advanced fission reactors can also be used for heating and cooling and to produce hydrogen and other alternative fuels. The main technological next steps are ensuring adequate nuclear fuel supply (specifically high-assay low-enriched uranium for most types of advanced reactors), building demonstration units. and establishing a long-term nuclear waste strategy.”

Date: Thursday, 10 November 2022
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