the view from heti

New initiative to drive efforts to deploy first advanced small modular nuclear reactor

The International Energy Agency has determined that nuclear energy production would need to increase 80 percent globally by 2040 to stay on track with sustainability targets, including international climate goals. Photo via houston.org

A new initiative from X-energy, bolstered by Dow, is powering low-carbon emissions energy. X-energy, LLC is a nuclear reactor and fuel design engineering company. The company was selected by the U.S. Department of Energy in 2020 to receive up to $1.2 billion under the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program Cooperative Agreement in federal cost-shared funding to develop, license, build, and demonstrate an operational advanced reactor and fuel fabrication facility within a 10-year span.

In 2022, X-energy announced a $50 million joint development agreement with multinational chemical giant Dow to demonstrate the first-grid advanced nuclear reactor at an industrial site. As part of the agreement, Dow is now a sub-awardee under X-energy’s ARDP with the DOE. At the time of the announcement, Dow also brought to light its intention to take a minority equity stake in X-energy.

Last month, the University of Texas at Austin Cockrell School of Engineering hosted a panel discussion with Governor Abbott, he noted “Texas is the energy capital of the world” Abbott said, “When you look at the fact that Texas is the fastest-growing state with regard to population and businesses, you know that our demand for power is only going to increase.” Abbott also said, “We’re going to be studying and evaluating the reliability, the safety of nuclear power. If it passes all the tests, we will be looking to dramatically expand nuclear power in the state of Texas for the primary purpose of providing reliable, dispatchable power to our grid.”

The International Energy Agency has determined that nuclear energy production would need to increase 80 percent globally by 2040 to stay on track with sustainability targets, including international climate goals.

Dow and X-energy are slated to install an Xe-100 high-temperature, gas-cooled reactor plant at one of Dow’s sites in Seadrift, between Corpus Christi and Houston, which produces more than 4 million pounds each year of materials used in packaging, footwear, wire and cable insulation and solar cell membranes. It also is expected to reduce the plant’s emissions by 440,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent annually, as steps by Michigan-based Dow toward achieving goals of carbon neutrality by 2050 and reducing carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030.

Jim Fitterling, Dow chairman and CEO, noted in a press release issued in early March, “The utilization of X-energy’s fourth generation nuclear technology will enable Dow to take a major step in reducing our carbon emissions while delivering lower carbon footprint products to our customers and society,” he said. “The collaboration with X-energy and the DOE will serve as a leading example of how the industrial sector can safely, effectively and affordably decarbonize.”

X-energy will install four of its Xe-100 reactors at the coastal site with each unit designed to produce 80 megawatts of energy fueled by the company’s baseball-sized uranium fuel kernels, encased in layers of pyrolytic carbon, silicon carbide and porous carbon. The reactors will partly be constructed by Fort Worth-based Paragon Energy Solutions, LLC, a supply chain management company that focuses its efforts on tackling the nuclear industry’s most difficult challenges. The Xe-100 modular reactor is one of two designs selected by the DOE to receive $80 million each of initial cost-shared funding to build an advanced reactor demonstration plant that can be operational within seven years.

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This article originally ran on the Greater Houston Partnership's Houston Energy Transition Initiative blog. HETI exists to support Houston's future as an energy leader. For more information about the Houston Energy Transition Initiative, EnergyCapitalHTX's presenting sponsor, visit htxenergytransition.org.

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A View From HETI

Houston could have ranked higher on a global report of top cities in the world if it had a bit more business diversification. Photo via Getty Images

A new analysis positions the Energy Capital of the World as an economic dynamo, albeit a flawed one.

The recently released Oxford Economics Global Cities Index, which assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the world’s 1,000 largest cities, puts Houston at No. 25.

Houston ranks well for economics (No. 15) and human capital (No. 18), but ranks poorly for governance (No. 184), environment (No. 271), and quality of life (No. 298).

New York City appears at No. 1 on the index, followed by London; San Jose, California; Tokyo; and Paris. Dallas lands at No. 18 and Austin at No. 39.

In its Global Cities Index report, Oxford Economics says Houston’s status as “an international and vertically integrated hub for the oil and gas sector makes it an economic powerhouse. Most aspects of the industry — downstream, midstream, and upstream — are managed from here, including the major fuel refining and petrochemicals sectors.”

“And although the city has notable aerospace and logistics sectors and has diversified into other areas such as biomedical research and tech, its fortunes remain very much tied to oil and gas,” the report adds. “As such, its economic stability and growth lag other leading cities in the index.”

The report points out that Houston ranks highly in the human capital category thanks to the large number of corporate headquarters in the region. The Houston area is home to the headquarters of 26 Fortune 500 companies, including ExxonMobil, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and Sysco.

Another contributor to Houston’s human capital ranking, the report says, is the presence of Rice University, the University of Houston and the Texas Medical Center.

“Despite this,” says the report, “it lacks the number of world-leading universities that other cities have, and only performs moderately in terms of the educational attainment of its residents.”

Slower-than-expected population growth and an aging population weaken Houston’s human capital score, the report says.

Meanwhile, Houston’s score for quality is life is hurt by a high level of income inequality, along with a low life expectancy compared with nearly half the 1,000 cities on the list, says the report.

Also in the quality-of-life bucket, the report underscores the region’s variety of arts, cultural, and recreational activities. But that’s offset by urban sprawl, traffic congestion, an underdeveloped public transportation system, decreased air quality, and high carbon emissions.

Furthermore, the report downgrades Houston’s environmental stature due to the risks of hurricanes and flooding.

“Undoubtedly, Houston is a leading business [center] that plays a key role in supporting the U.S. economy,” says the report, “but given its shortcomings in other categories, it will need to follow the path of some of its more well-rounded peers in order to move up in the rankings.”

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

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