Malone: Nuclear power can ignite growth of alternative fuel infrastructure and ship orders

Utilizing nuclear power could become a catalyst for the growth of alternative fuel infrastructure projects and the ship orders to go with it, according to Principal of Sea/Switch Partners and Partner in the ETFMG Breakwave Sea Decarbonization Tech ETF, BSEA, Hal Malone.

Illustration; Courtesy of Core Power

As explained, shipping decarbonization goes beyond the use of alternative fuels to power vessels; it encompasses the production of these fuels as well. The crucial aspect of decarbonization lies in ensuring that alternative fuels are produced using renewable electricity.

While alternative fuels can be derived from conventional power sources, they are not inherently environmentally friendly. To truly be considered green fuels, they must be generated using renewable electricity. However, the industry faces a significant hurdle in obtaining a sustainable and widespread supply of renewable electricity for producing green fuels.

Projections show that every existing renewable energy-generating asset would need to be solely dedicated to producing green fuels for the shipping industry to fully decarbonize.

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Nuclear power has been used to power naval ships and submarines for over half a century, and several startups are engaged in making the technology deployable onboard commercial cargo ships.

Next-generation nuclear power technology offers the potential for fully contained onboard systems that require no refueling or waste disposal during the life of the ship and substantially faster zero-emissions sailing speeds. However, these solutions would substantially increase vessel costs, as well as raise a number of safety, security, and other concerns.

One of the emerging players in the nuclear power space focusing on the maritime industry and production of maritime fuels is Core Power. The company is working on the development of a modular molten salt reactor (MSR) to propel ships and provide energy for manufacturing blue and green fuels. An MSR is a class of nuclear fission reactors in which the primary nuclear reactor coolant and/or the fuel is a salt mixture.

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Another idea that is gaining momentum is using nuclear power to produce green fuels. In this scenario nuclear would enable decarbonization of the industry without the complications of building and maintaining onboard reactors for each ship.

Core Power is also targeting other markets with its technology including power generation, especially for coastal communities and island states. A floating nuclear power plant with these types of reactors onboard can be used to help produce green hydrogen, ammonia, synthetic fuels or methanol for up to 40 years.

Nuclear power does not emit carbon or other greenhouse gases and can produce electricity consistently and economically, Malone explains. Creative solutions such as housing nuclear reactors on offshore platforms and barges could also make them safer, less expensive, and easier to deploy. There are important risks to consider with nuclear, but technological developments have made it more feasible and promising than ever, he added.

The European Union is in the process of making a policy into law that would deem hydrogen generated by nuclear energy fully renewable in designated regions. In the U.S., the Department of Energy is investing billions to help scale up and decrease the cost of clean hydrogen through existing energy assets, including nuclear power plants.

“With alternative fuel production projects held up by the availability of renewable energy, utilizing nuclear power could become a catalyst for the growth of alternative fuel infrastructure projects and the ship orders to go with it. While there are important concerns to consider with nuclear power, its potential to help the shipping industry decarbonize is gaining attention from scientists, governments, and private enterprises,” Malone says.

BSEA provides investor access to a diversified set of global companies that develop technologies, manufacture equipment or provide services related to marine or ocean decarbonization.