Argonnes Developing Micro-Nuclear Reactors for eTruck Supercharging

The largest cross-country 18-wheel trucks will need five to 10 times more electricity than an electric car to recharge its battery. And these trucks often need to recharge far from high-power transmission lines.

Engineers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory want to factory mass produce microreactors to enable the electric transportation future.

Microreactors will use nuclear fuel and passive safety features. They will recharge cross-country semitrucks at thousands of rest stops across the country. They will be about the size of two home water heaters.

When the rest stop is empty, the reactor produces power in the form of heat, which is transferred and stored in a separate tank of inert heat-transfer fluid. When trucks crowd the rest stop, the system taps that heated fluid to produce steam, generate electricity and recharge batteries.

The fuel is made of Tri-structural ISOtropic (TRISO) pellets, developed from 60 years of research at DOE National Laboratories. The pellets contain low-enriched uranium covered by layers of carbon and ceramics. Those protective layers ensure the reactor’s safety.

The cost will be less than $3,000 per kilowatt-hour for capital costs and will use proven, practical approaches.

Argonne laboratory’s award-winning System Analysis Module (SAM) Reactor Analysis Code picked the best reactor size, fuel amount and heat-transfer fluid type.

The system could be standardized, mass-produced on an assembly line and loaded on trucks to ship to installation sites across the country.

Other Pebble Bed Nuclear Reactors

Westinghouse eVinci has gotten about $50M and they are working towards 2023 or 2025 for a first unit. They want to mass-produce heat pipes and factory mass produce the entire reactor in the 200 KWe to 25MWe power range. eVinci will also use fuel pellets.

the US and other countries have significant funding for small modular reactors (SMR). In May 2020 the DOE launched the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP) offering funds, initially $160 million, on a cost-share basis for the construction of two advanced reactors that could be operational within seven years. The ARDP will concentrate resources on designs that are “affordable” to build and operate.

Pebble bed reactors and high-temperature gas reactors are getting activated in Asia. China has the 210MW HTR-PM (being tested now) and Japan has the HTTR (30MW).

Time will tell if what makes sense engineering and technology-wise will overcome the regulatory and business hurdles to take become a massive part of our energy and transportation future.

SOURCEs- World Nuclear News, Argonne Labs, NEI Magazine
Written by Brian Wang,