US DOE “Liftoff Reports” Explain How Important New Clean Technologies Can Go From Lab To Production

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The Department of Energy (DOE) is playing a crucial role in accelerating the commercialization of clean energy technologies. With the support of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), the DOE is set to invest billions of dollars in large-scale demonstrations and deployment of these technologies over the next decade.

The DOE’s first Pathways to Commercial Liftoff reports aim to provide valuable insights and signposts for investment decisions, focusing on advanced nuclear, carbon management, clean hydrogen, and long duration energy storage.

These reports aim to foster further discussion in the private sector and gather more feedback going forward to drive the clean energy transition. Through stakeholder engagement and modeling, the Liftoff Reports offer a resource to inform decision making for industry, investors, and the broader stakeholder community, hopefully.

In the upcoming months, DOE says it will be adding more reports that focus on other emerging technology areas. These areas have been carefully selected based on their anticipated contribution to the clean energy transition, complementing the role of mature clean energy technologies. The stated intention with these reports is to foster meaningful dialogue with the private sector. As they continue to update and revise these reports over time, we encourage continuous feedback from the industry.

You can find them all here, but I’ll summarize some of what these first reports found on these important subject areas.

Advanced Nuclear

According to DOE, nuclear energy can help provide some backup for intermittent renewables (IOW, “when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow”). It can provide a substantial portion of the additional firm capacity required, ensuring a sustainable and resilient energy future, even if it’s not as clean overall as renewables. At least it doesn’t make climate change worse, right?

To achieve net-zero in the United States by 2050, the DOE’s system modeling suggests the need for approximately 550-770 GW of additional clean and reliable power. Among the available options, advanced nuclear power emerges as the economically viable choice for at least 200 GW of this capacity expansion. This assumption takes into account the expected reduction in overnight capital costs, making it a favorable alternative when compared to other clean and reliable options such as renewables paired with long duration energy storage, fossil fuels with carbon capture, and geothermal energy.

By 2050, the deployment of approximately 200 GW of nuclear capacity in the U.S. may necessitate around $700 billion in capital formation, with $35-40 billion required by 2030. The limitations surrounding transmission expansion, interconnection, land-use intensity, and other factors that hinder the growth of renewables are likely to further enhance the attractiveness of nuclear as an alternative.

To successfully deploy advanced reactors on a large scale, it is crucial to take proactive steps. This includes establishing a solid orderbook of 5-10 projects by 2030 and ensuring predictable construction timelines and cost profiles. Valuable insights from the construction of Units 3 and 4 at the Alvin W. Vogtle Electric Generating Plant, which involved two Westinghouse AP1000 pressurized water reactors, should be incorporated to enhance the process.

Clean Hydrogen

When it comes to Clean Hydrogen, DOE figures it will play a crucial role in the decarbonization of sectors that pose greater challenges, such as refining, chemicals, and heavy-duty transport. Its significance lies in its ability to address carbon emissions in these industries that are harder to decarbonize. So, they’re not trying to push it for things like light and medium duty vehicles, where we know they’d be super wasteful.

The clean hydrogen market in the United States is set to experience rapid growth, driven by various factors such as the Hydrogen Hub funding from the Department of Energy, the hydrogen production tax credit (PTC), DOE’s Hydrogen Earth Shot initiative, and the decarbonization goals embraced by both the public and private sectors. This growth is expected to enable clean hydrogen production to increase from its current levels of almost zero to approximately 10 million metric tons per year (MMTpa) by 2030, with applications spanning industrial, transportation, and power sectors. Looking further ahead, the goal is to reach 50 MMTpa by 2050. Such ambitious targets present an investment opportunity ranging from $85-215 billion through 2030.

In many instances, the adoption of clean hydrogen PTC significantly accelerates the breakeven points for Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) to around the next five years. This holds true for top-notch projects, particularly those with access to high-capacity factor renewables, across both industrial and transportation sectors. The introduction of BIL and IRA provisions has effectively stimulated clean hydrogen production, resulting in the announcement of numerous projects that are expected to meet the projected demand by 2030, with more announcements on the horizon.

But, there will be challenges.

The Department of Energy (DOE) emphasizes that while favorable supply-side dynamics are important, they alone are insufficient to scale the market. Addressing the current chicken-and-egg challenges between scaling midstream infrastructure and end-use applications is crucial. To prove the viability of scaling clean hydrogen and expanding regional distribution and offtake networks, clusters of hydrogen projects (including adjacent production and offtake) and regional hydrogen hubs across the U.S. (some of which will receive DOE funding) will serve as vital proof points.

Long Duration Energy Storage (LDES)

CleanTechnica readers already know the value of energy storage, which often comes in the form of lithium-ion batteries like the Tesla Powerwall and Megapack. But, when you’re looking at longer-term storage (think weeks and maybe even months, not days), there’s a lot of potential benefits.

In the report, the Department of Energy emphasizes the significance of Long Duration Energy Storage (LDES) in ensuring flexibility and reliability within a decarbonized power system. LDES also presents itself as a crucial solution to enhance local and regional resiliency, particularly in the face of increasing extreme weather events. By reducing the costs and risks associated with grid expansion, LDES proves to be a valuable asset in achieving a sustainable energy future.

The power market applications for achieving net zero systems in the U.S. grid might require approximately 225-460 GW of LDES capacity. This would entail a cumulative capital investment of around $330 billion. Although this necessitates substantial levels of funding, analysis indicates that net-zero pathways that incorporate LDES could yield annualized savings of $10-20 billion in operating costs and avoided capital expenditures by 2050, in comparison to pathways without LDES. LDES encompasses a diverse range of technologies with the shared objective of storing energy for durations ranging from 10 to 160 hours of dispatch.

The LDES report examines and classifies two market segments: Inter-day LDES (10-36 hours) and Multi-day LDES (36-160+ hours). Achieving widespread implementation of LDES technologies will necessitate focused efforts in three key areas: fostering public and private investments to reduce costs and enhance performance, implementing market interventions and reforms to incentivize differentiated performance and services, and establishing flexible and efficient supply chains to preempt deployment bottlenecks amidst potential surges in demand.

There’s A Whole Lot More To Read

If these summaries sound interesting, I’d definitely recommend checking the full reports out. The goal, as said earlier, is to stimulate thought in the industry. Maybe you’ll come up with some good ideas to help these technologies along or improve renewables to the point where they’re not as needed.

Featured image provided by U.S. DOE (Public Domain).


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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

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