BEAR Press Release
The San Rafael Energy Research Center (SRERC) was at the center of the Castle Country Business Expansion and Retention general board meeting on Nov. 30. Dr. Jeremy Pearson, the director of the center, spent an hour discussing the work being done there and the future of energy research and development in the area with the 40 people in attendance at the meeting.
“This area has always been a leader in energy production in Utah and in the nation as well,” stated Dr. Pearson. “And there is an opportunity to continue as such, both in terms of fossil fuels, but also in taking a leadership role in the country’s energy transition.”
During the meeting, he spoke on a number of topics that will be important to the area, including advanced nuclear power generation and nuclear recycling, advanced coal power generation, hydrogen generation, water desalinization, critical minerals production and recycling, integrated energy systems, nuclear workforce training/development, and lithium-ion battery recycling.
“Most of these things we are already working on and a couple are aspirational and we believe we will be doing them in the future,” said Pearson.
He spoke about Hyman Rickover, who was not only the father of the Nuclear Navy, but probably one of the most important people in the nuclear industry since the advent of its many uses.
“In a speech in 1957, he pointed out that so much of the life we enjoy is tied to energy, and when the production of energy declines, the prosperity and viability of a civilization declines,” said Dr. Pearson. “In the reverse, more energy production improves our lives.”
Dr. Pearson said he believes in a “human-centric approach to energy” where human needs are put first. “This is what Governor Cox has advocated for,” he said. “He feels that we should stop fighting among ourselves and work in this way. This is spot on as far as I am concerned.”
Dr. Pearson stated that in a thousand years when people look back that this century will be defined by the development of sustainable energy.
“Eventually, we will run out of fossil fuels and that is why developing alternate sources of energy is important,” he stated. “We will have nuclear, we have renewables and that is what the research center is working to bring to reality.”
He then went on about specific projects that the research center is working on. The first is the molten salt nuclear reactor.
“This reactor has the potential to be the most cost effective nuclear system in the future,” Dr. Pearson stated. “It may be able to produce energy on par with the cost of natural gas. There are enough resources on the earth to run this kind of nuclear reactor for a billion years. At SRERC, we are working on both sides of this project, which includes not only the reactor, but also the advanced power system that will work with it. The CIB (Community Impact Board) has invested $10 million in this project to help get it to the point where it can be used commercially.”
He then spoke about advanced power generation through coal. He demonstrated how a regular power plant works (which is also similar to a nuclear generation station) and stated that the way systems are designed now they are only about 33% efficient. In other words, a lot of heat is lost and that happens during the condensation process in the evaporation towers at the plants. That is heat that could be utilized.
“Liquids are easier to pump than a gas is,” he said. “What if we could come up with some kind of magical liquid that would turn back into a liquid on its own without the condensation cycle where all this heat is wasted?”
He answered his own question by stating that that it does exist and it is called a super critical fluid. Presently, that fluid is made from CO2. Use of this kind of fluid could increase the efficiency of power plants into the mid 40 percentile, which would be a substantial gain.
Dr. Pearson also talked about all the ways coal could be used for industry that have little to do with burning it. The center is working on developments in that area as well. “In fact, we are building a new building for research into these areas, including using coal to create hydrogen,” he said.
At that point, Dr. Pearson also brought up hydrogen as an energy source. While it is not yet totally worked out as to how it can be used economically, it will be one of the sources of energy that will provide the transition to a new energy future.
“It will be a major part of our energy usage because it will be used in vehicles that will only emit water vapor from its use,” he said. “Intermountain power plant is working toward changing toward hydrogen based power generation. It will be expensive to begin with, but since they have a customer who is willing to pay more for it (southern California), this is a good opportunity to develop it.”
A Utah company named OxEon is one of the leading companies working on hydrogen generation and they are in a partnership with the SRERC on development and study.
“I envision Utah being the hydrogen hub of the west, and piping it out to a lot of places,” said Dr. Pearson.
He then talked about desalinization and that Utah could well be at the center of that because of the industries that already exist that take minerals out of water in the Great Salt Lake.
In another area concerning nuclear power, Dr. Pearson pointed out that in nuclear fission, 95% of what is left after use is still fuel and that can be used. However, even the other five percent that is left is not really waste, but elements that could be used. However, right now, the technology does not exist to split them apart to utilize them. That is another thing that is under research as well.
BEAR will not hold a meeting in December because of the holidays, but will announce a meeting for January early next year.