UK announces £30mn funding for small nuclear tech sites
The UK government has announced £30mn in funding for construction of three types of nuclear energy sites in the country.
The funding comes as part of a £40mn funding package which has been dedicated to the research of new nuclear power as the nation continues to move away from high-carbon energy sources such as coal.
The government has awarded £10mn to each of the three advanced modular reactor projects which, if proven to be successful, could be possible alternatives to large-scale nuclear builds in the future.
These new style of nuclear plants are considerably smaller than traditional sites and use intense heat generated in nuclear reactions which enables the production of large scale, low-carbon electricity.
The sites are located across England in different areas. One is a fusion reactor project based in Milton Park, Oxfordshire. A lead-cooled fission reactor located near Preston and a small high-temperature gas-cooled fission reactor in Capenhurst, Cheshire.
Advanced modular reactor projects are able to use the latest types of cooling systems and fuels which unlock much more functionality than traditional solutions. These aren’t the only types of nuclear plants that are being funded by the nation’s government. Small modular reactors are also receiving funding which work in the same way as large stations but at a smaller scale.
Here’s what Construction Minister, Nadhim Zahawi had to say: “Advanced modular reactors are the next step in nuclear energy and have the potential to be a crucial part of tackling carbon emissions and climate change.
“Today’s investment will immediately create new jobs in Oxfordshire, Cumbria and Lancashire. But through this vital research, the technology could also create thousands more green-collar jobs for decades to come.”
£5mn of the funding will be used for investment in British companies and start-ups that focus on the development and manufacturing-side of modular reactor projects both in the UK and overseas.
The remaining £5mn will be used towards strengthening the UK’s nuclear regulatory regime.
Despite all of this, warnings have been echoed regarding the replacement of current nuclear sites.
Earlier in the year, Nuclear Industry Association’s Chief Executive, Tom Greatrex, said: “You cannot [achieve net zero] without at least replacing the nuclear fleet, which within the next 10 years will almost all retire. That means we’re going to need a significant amount of construction to happen, but it won’t until there’s clarity about how much and where the country wants to do it.”
University of Dresden constructs carbon concrete building
The Technical University of Dresden, in partnership with German architecture firm Henn, is constructing the first building to be made out of concrete and carbon fibre, rather than traditional steel.
The combination of materials, known as, “carbon concrete” has the same structural strength as its steel-reinforced alternative but less concrete is used, according to researchers at the university.
The building, called “The Cube” is currently under construction at the University of Dresden’s campus in Germany, and is believed to be the first carbon concrete building in the world. Strengthening the concrete, the carbon fibre yarns are used to create a mesh into which the concrete is then poured.
Unlike steel, the mesh is rust-proof meaning that the lifespan of carbon concrete is longer than that of the more typical steel-reinforced concrete. This also allows the layers to be much thinner than steel.
The design and shape of The Cube
According to the companies, the flexibility of carbon fibre allows the walls to fold up and become a roof. In a statement talking about the building’s design elements, Hen said: “The design of The Cube reinterprets the fluid, textile nature of carbon fibres by seamlessly merging the ceiling and walls in a single form, suggesting a future architecture in which environmentally conscious design is paired with formal freedom and a radical rethinking of essential architectural elements.
"The wall and ceiling are no longer separate components but functionally merge into one another as an organic continuum.” Displayed as a showpiece for TU Dresden’s major project, backed by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, The Cube aims to explore the potential uses of carbon concrete in construction.
"Carbon concrete could contribute to more flexible and resource-saving construction processes, and switching to carbon concrete could reduce the CO2 emissions from construction by up to 50%," Henn said in a statement.
Bio-based carbon fibre under development to reduce carbon footprint
While carbon fibre may be lighter and stronger than steel, it has a much higher carbon footprint. Describing the material’s impact on the environment, Dr Erik Frank, Senior Carbon Scientist at the German Institute of Textile and Fibre Research Denkendorf (DITF), said it is “usually very bad.” To reduce the carbon footprint, Frank is finding ways to make carbon fibre out of lignin, a common plant-based substance found in the paper manufacturing industry.