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Natrium, Coal gasification & Synfuels, Oh My!

Cal Abel

Monday, January 16, 2023

Chris Keefer  0:00  

Welcome back to Decouple. Today I'm joined by Cal Abel. Cal has a 20 year history in energy and energy policy. He holds a PhD in Nuclear Engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology and served 10 years in the United States Navy working on submarines. Amongst his other accomplishments, Cal was instrumental in the development of the Natrium reactor. And in our pre episode chat here, I've just learned that he competes in strongman Cal is you know, guests here on Decouple, introduce themselves. So I'm gonna give you a couple minutes to pretend you're in an elevator with with one of our listeners and give us the Coles notes. And I'm sure we're gonna dive in deep, because as I can see, you're a pretty multifaceted individual.


Cal Abel  0:40  

So what do I say about myself other than you already? What you already said, I don't know I kind of wound up in nuclear power. I picked the major because it was hard. I don't know if that's a normal thing to do. But that's what I did. It seemed cool. And I wanted to go into submarines, I thought, yeah, they're nuclear powered. So why not studying of engineering. So that's what I did. It turned out that I absolutely love running nuclear reactors, I'm actually pretty good at it. And I love figuring out how to build them and how to like kind of how it all fits together. It's like this giant puzzle. And it's kind of like catnip, and I get to play with it. And so when I got out of the Navy, I was trying to figure out what to do. I had no idea. I mean, I wasn't, you have Navy life, and then you have civilian, very different. So I had no idea what I was going to do, or even how to really interact with people. So I use the time to get my PhD in order to like kind of re acclimate, it's kind of like a glide path into like normal life. Turns out that was needed. Although I did try going directly into commercial nuclear power right after the Navy, at Sequoia, the scale of those reactors is on real. When you have a steam pipe, that's the high pressure steam pipe going to the high pressure turbine, as our calls are on four feet in diameter, so little over a meter in diameter. And you'd be sitting there watching the steam flow through it, and watching it move back and forth literally like this, as is just and it was designed to do that. I mean, you can just feel literally the flow of the steam flowing through that you could feel. So I guess because of my experience with with nuclear power has been operational, I my sense of it is one of feeling we would do these head flank cavitate maneuvers on submarines, where he'd go from, like 10% power to 100% power in about 45 seconds. If your throttle man was good, you could get up there, you'd get up to 80% within probably 10 seconds. And then you'd work your way up to 100 from there without trying to overshoot because they didn't get a protective action. And that's kind of not not good. But so it really is kind of like the bulk, you'd get to 80% quickly. And then you get up there but watching feeling the ship shutter, you could watch the shaft and I've watched the shaft actually twist and the shaft is probably about three feet in diameter. I've watched it coil like a spring from the force of the steam coming into it and just snap the ship. And then the ships just whip through the water. And it's so my experience nuclear energy is one of fueling the power. So that's where my, I guess my passion for it comes from us because I know what it can do. I feel it. It's not it's a tangible thing. So after the Navy, I had a love of fast reactors that was instilled in me at Wisconsin. My undergrad master's and I have been a fast reactor fanboy for north of 25 years now. I just love them. Love them. My work for my PhD was specifically centered on them. So natrium is based out was uses the prism reactor which is what I took. And so I was like so back that up a little bit. So while I was at TVA, I get bored easily add is a bit of a problem. As part of the reason why I lift weights is to help with ADD.


Chris Keefer  4:41  

Yeah, let's let's let's unpack some zeitwerk


Cal Abel  4:46  

What do you want to go with that? That's so yeah, so I did all that stuff. Oh, by the way, also on behalf of a coal mine, so I'm also a coal miner. So how did how did a nuclear engineer become a coal miner Navy guy?


Chris Keefer  4:59  

Yeah. We've got a lot to unpack and listen, I feel like I could talk to you all day about nuclear subs. You know, it's my favorite kind of movie more kind of world war two sub stuff I find fascinating Das Boot, obviously the classic, but also watching it's great guy on YouTube with an engineering channel. I'm blanking on it right now. But you know, his, you know, bringing a crew down on a nuclear sub and just trying to understand the culture of, I guess these kind of Mad Men and mad women that will do that to themselves live underwater. Yeah, live underwater with with, you know, such little contact with outside world. But I mean, really, it's, I think the closest you come to kind of man to space travel, I mean, underwater is kind of extra terrestrial. He's off land, and you're in this fucking spaceship. And I mean, the culture of excellence, I think is what impressed me in terms of the the brief conversations I've seen on YouTube with you know, Submariners is just like, why do you do this, I think it's because you have to operate at such an extraordinary high level of capacity, understand the whole ship, be able to patch and mend just about anything. I mean, it really, to me feels like Deep Space Nine, as as an outsider as an observer. So I've got this little window into it, I could talk to you all day about it, I wouldn't mind you know, expanding a bit on it. But there is a lot I want to touch on. So here's my laundry list. Okay. And this is kind of building off of following you on Twitter, reading a guest post of yours on grid brief, which everyone who's listening right now shouldn't hit pause and go and subscribe on Twitter. And for the email for grid brief. But anyway, some of the topics and we can we can sort of sort of which ones we want to dwell on more than others. But you know, your thoughts on why variable renewable energy doesn't work, we can touch a bit on energy return on energy invested in a more sort of meta view of energy, I definitely do want to make sure we don't miss out talking about natrium, and particularly thermal storage, why that's better than battery storage. And something that came out of our pre talk was, I guess, kind of pragmatic versus puritanical responses to decarbonisation. And again, you do talk about this idea of swapping in nuclear for coal, we have over a trillion dollars of infrastructure that exists, that's fossil, but you'd say that we need to keep shipping the coal to this new nuclear power plant that swapped in and we just chatted a little bit about that. And, you know, in terms of who turned me on to your work that was largely BF Randall, who sort of blew up the whole podcast with our diesel powered decoupling episode, I think another example of puritanical of pragmatic versus puritanical Decarbonization. So those are kind of my priorities. I've been listening a lot to a guy named Nate Hagens, who paints a fairly dark picture of the world as we sort of use up this carbon pulse, which is kind of what underlies, you know, the last two 300 years of the incredible blow up of population of innovation of technology of you know, everything that's around us. And he really posits that fossil fuels are just too good. They're, they're impossible to replace. And I have to say, I sort of agree to a large extent, they're just so you know, such concentrated forms of usable energy. And, you know, the challenge of of decarbonisation, for me isn't just making clean energy. It's replacing fossil fuel services. So I think, in terms of what we're going to touch on with why you keep shipping coal to a nuke plant that's going to build off of again, how do we replace other fossil fuel services? So in terms of where to start? I don't know, man. I really don't know. But I think I think the highest yield stuff would be let's maybe start with this whole this whole question of, again, replacing fossil fuel services. What's the missing link? Because, you know, the mainstream view is we need to electrify everything. So maybe we can start by just starting to potentially poke some holes in that BF Randall was saying, listen, electrification, that's 15% of global prime energies, we have this 85% black bloc of, you know, process heat and everything else that we use energy for. And I think at its core, that is what your mission is, if I'm not mistaken. So why don't we just dump it jump in there? And then maybe we'll take some sidetracks talking about renewables, talking about euro AI, etc.


Cal Abel  9:08  

Okay, so I guess my was a 2007 and Washington Inconvenient Truth and became concerned about climate change. And I was wondering why they didn't talk about nuclear. Also. So as part of that, I was like, Okay, so why why not? So I started doing math to try and figure out why we weren't using it. I knew that the fast reactors were pretty close. In temperatures and pressures as the as most fossil plants, at least the older ones, the ones built up probably till about 85 after 85. The newer plants tend to be super critical. So higher temperature, higher pressure, but they're, you know, it's just changing on a turbine. It's not, there's cost with that. I can't just be like flipping just changing out turbine systems. It's not direct drive. Open bit.


So it's like, we have all this infrastructure. nuclear energy is just a fancy way of boiling water, we've boiled water with oil, we boiled water with gas, we boil water, with coal, we boil water with


sunlight, all these things are all different ways that we boil water, and we use that. And wood. That's the other thing that we use, we use wood. So all these things were used to boil water. So I was like, Alright, so let's just swap out the heat source, and try to preserve as much infrastructure as we have. I don't. Vaclav Smil, talks about in his energy transition is the role of infrastructure. And that's something I don't think we really appreciate and that we really need to take a close hard look at. Because what, what we have been given, we have been given interest, we've been given interest for the future generations, and we have been given tremendous assets that have taken. I mean, if you think about the Industrial Revolution, the Industrial Revolution was about 320 years ago, is when the industrial revolution started when Newcomen made his steam engine, so I was 1719 300 years ago. So yeah, so just over 300 years ago, since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, if you'd put that at that time. So in that 300 years, all those generations have given us this tremendous infrastructure. And all of its centers around steam. Well, most of it, we've kind of diversified a little bit with the invention of the Brayton cycle. But really, steam drives drives modernity, modernity, and it has the bulk of electricity production is steam driven. So if we've got an issue with where we're getting power from the producing steam, why don't we just swap up the heat source. So that's what kind of got was my entree into? Let's look at repowering all these coal plants. And so I looked at doing that I didn't have lots of ideas associated with it, other than just kind of as a general concept, really, what became my PhD was how you physically go about doing that. And so I had to create a technology that would enable that. And the really, the purpose of that technology was to limit the regulatory purview of the of the NRC. I'm an American, so our Nuclear Regulatory is the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. And so I wanted to restrict the scope of their regulatory purview to a very clearly defined Island, and that anything that's outside that island is outside of their scope, they have no right to regulate it. And that actually proved to be the solution that actually proved to be pretty elegant. And it also solved an energy storage problem.


Chris Keefer  12:59  

That was one of the big criticisms of nuclear, you know, that I hear from from some donors is, you know, provides baseload power. That's great. But, you know, demand is elastic. And in some ways, I mean, I think there's some problems with these claims. But they're, you know, in some ways, nuclear is not dispatchable, just as wind and solar are not dispatchable. I mean, obviously, with nuclear, you're building peaks, rather than filling troughs and building peaks. But, you know, that is an issue. So it sounds like you you were involved, or have been involved in thinking about that, and trying to solve that issue of,


Cal Abel  13:32  

well, nuclear is like, BW ours boiling water reactors, they actually load follow really well. Because they're very stable with in terms of power. So the, the mantra that we have is that reactive power follows steam demand. And so with boilers, I mean, it is very tightly coupled, there is no lag between reactivity, insertion, reactive power change, and, and, and fee water flow rate change. So it's there, they're tight. So boy,


Chris Keefer  14:05  

I guess, I guess the idea is that it's most economic to just use every single megawatt you can crank out of a nuclear plant. I mean, until we, until and unless we have an excess of number of nuclear plants, I guess, kind of how France does things with their, you know, winter demand peak, and then sort of having really shitty capacity factors and, you know, not doing too much in the summer. But anyways, getting on to a bit of an aside, but I think that's a core contribution of yours with the, you know, taking what we have from concentrated solar CSP, and I'm saying, Well, fuck, why can't we use molten salts alongside nuclear as an energy storage medium, is that is that correct? Yeah.


Cal Abel  14:39  

And I mean, it genuinely. I have to, I have to get the the people who are in the renewable and in the alternative energy business. Some of them are actually really good engineers. To give credit where credit is due and legitimately credit is due. The development of concentrated solar power was was phenomenal. And how I got turned on to it was I was just looking for energy storage. And then I found concentrated solar power. I'm like, wait a minute, this is exact same temperature as this reactor that literally one for one change out. And so then I just started playing around and tinkering with it, and then did a few tweaks for the nuclear stuff. But really, that was about the whole genesis of, of what has become atrium was, wow, they these guys actually did it. And then I looked at the materials that they had in there, it was nothing exotic. It was like stainless steel 316. Seriously, this is like everywhere, or three or seven. I mean, it's like it was beautiful. I mean, it was so, so straightforward. And


Chris Keefer  15:47  

so So why hasn't it worked out? Like I mean, you hear about the CSP experiments in the US and they've been shut off really early because they weren't economic. Just briefly, why hasn't he sources crap? Okay.


Cal Abel  15:58  

There he sources the sun. You have to put it in dry, arid places, you're plowing up the desert, the desert in the southeast. If you've ever been out there, I do suggest you go. It's not desert. It is like this vibrant ecosystem, and you're pulling up hundreds of acres of this for all your solar panels. It's it's pretty ridiculous. But their heat source is absolute crap.


Chris Keefer  16:28  

And that's I mean, it'll be shocking to see.


Cal Abel  16:31  

Well, I mean, yeah, it only shines what half the day, at most, well, maybe in the summer a little bit more in the northern hemisphere. But other than that, it at most, you're gonna shine sign it, the sun's only shining half the day and all that you only have enough, high enough flux, maybe three quarters of the day, you get a reasonable appreciable amount of solar flux Other than that, of those three, three quarters of that 12 hours.


Chris Keefer  16:59  

So this, this is what strikes me as interesting. And I want to talk to you about comparing thermal storage versus battery storage. You've mentioned that briefly in a tweet, what a great chance to expand on that in a podcast. But you know, the whole issue with with you know the impracticality of storage with a renewable system is that you know, what's Europe going through right now, the the dunkles route, they are wind, droughts are the doldrums of winter, you're talking about, you know, week long, multi week long seasonal storage. But with nuclear, because it's so reliable, we are only talking about hours of storage, it doesn't get into days of storage, and that becomes a much more solvable problem, it would seem?


Cal Abel  17:35  

Yes, it is. And it's even, it's even more than that. So in my dissertation I talk about as being an energy server. And so the analogy here is, is I don't know how familiar you are with computers, we have things called raids. I don't ask me what that stands for something independent Array of Independent devices, what the R stands for, I don't know, but the last three I got. But it's basically when you have hard drives in parallel with each other. And they share the data in between each of the hard drives so that if one hard drive fails, you just pull the hard drive out, and then your data is still protected. And then you can plug a new hard drive in and they're hot swappable now. So they're highly reliable. So use that for maintaining something that requires a high level of reliability. And so when I was looking at this is that the the salt tanks acts as like a bus. And on the bus, you can have multiple things in parallel with each other, you can have multiple steam plants on the outside. So if you have a forced outage and one of your steam plants is not going to take down your total power output. And then on the heat supply side, you have multiple steam plants, or multiple reactors, supplying heat. And then those if one of those goes down, due to a forced outage, you still have the other three or four reactors, they're supplying the heat. So you've got this massively independent thing where they're all sharing this common bus with that storage to buffer in that time in there. And it turns out, you don't need as much storage as you need with renewables, because your heat source is always there. I've even looked at integrating combustion turbines with with the energy storage system, where you take the instead of having heat recovery steam generator on a combustion turbine like it conventionally have, its you just have a salt heat exchanger. And so you fire up the combustion turbine, it's operating in a simple cycle mode, but you're recovering all the heat into the salt from that into the into the salt tanks. So now you have simple cycle flexibility on the combustion turbine with combined cycle efficiency when you integrate it with the storage system, and you have an extra way of dumping even a little bit more heat into your tanks. So that way you can you can Play with more with the levels of where you have, how many reactors you have, how big your, your, your thermal plant is how big your storage is. And then you can scale it out. I mean, it's, it's basically a mix and match. And so the whole idea was to increase the reliability so that if the plant if the plant goes down, that really would be an act of God. But if the plant does go on, you have so much stored energy on site, you can bring it back up. It's called Blackstar capability. Right? Right. So the whole purpose of this site was to be Blackstar capable, so that you can, you can restore the grid with it. But it's so reliable that the grid never goes down with it either. So it's like, Oh, what is it that you want? Well, you want something that's never going to fail? And if it does fail, bring yourself back up.


Chris Keefer  20:47  

So just you know, without getting into the nitty gritty of reactor physics, I'm sure some guests would love that. But I got to try and please all the people all the time here. Let's talk a little bit about why sodium fast reactor, it sounds like part of that is temperature. It's also super cool to extend the erode the eyes and the you know, the extent close the fuel cycle to the degree possible. You know, I've my bias is as my listenership is probably very aware have been on like it, let's let's keep going with the pressurized water fleet, at least, to restart and reboot our industries before we get ambitious and, you know, work on technologies that may take a while to get high capacity factors just because of taking a while to upskill or human factors. I mean, I had Noah Rettberg on recently, and he was talking about precisely the contribution of the highly skilled folks that are nuclear submarines who kind of retire out and have a couple, you know, couple decades worth of work left in them and help run that fleet. And that's part of what has gotten America's PW our fleet to these 90 to 93% capacity factor levels. So I've really neglected the advanced nuclear side of things. And so if you can be part of that education without going into deep reactor physics, but just talk about why you like sodium reactors, fast reactors, and why that couples into replace coal etc. I think you've hinted at some of that in terms of similar temperatures, etc. But go ahead and kind of sell me on that or, you know, convince me,


Cal Abel  22:11  

okay, so light water reactors, you're really kind of limited to about 260 degrees Celsius, that's kind of like you might get a little bit more a little bit less, but you're you're in the neighborhood of that. Fast reactors, sodium fast reactor, specifically, you're talking pool temperatures that are 500 degrees Celsius, with steam temperatures of 450 degrees Celsius, so you're talking a lot hotter, which allows you to be able to be more efficient with your turbine design. Because you've got superheated steam, you've got reheat it and play around with it. So that's that's one. But really, what it comes down to, and this came out of Argonne National Lab with their integral fast reactor project was this is the problem that had plagued sodium fast reactors in the past was that they were built like they were Pressurized Water Reactors, where you have your reactor vessel, you have loops that go out to your intermediate heat exchangers that have another loop that go out to your steam generators, because sodium and steam react explosively together.


That was another part of the reason why I got used to salt with this reactor so that you can get away from that.


So you have all this. Where was I going with this? So these are the old school designs. So like, for me, the date like you'll if you look up for me, Oh see, the day that we almost lost Detroit. As referenced in there. They had a partial meltdown if my memory serves me,


Chris Keefer  23:59  

it's not the Chicago pile is it? We're talking now


Cal Abel  24:01  

this is no this is this is the Fermi reactor that was up on Detroit. It was a fast sodium fast reactor, then have Clinch River breeder reactor, did


Chris Keefer  24:09  

we almost lose Detroit? Or was that was that was just what they said.


Cal Abel  24:14  

I'm pretty sure the reactor had a partial meltdown on there. So there's I am. I'm showing my nuclear ignorance. As much as I am a nuclear junkie. I'm very ignorant on something. So first, and then Monju had an issue where they had a sodium fire from a leak and a temperature probe. So basically, if you have a system that's in a pipe, whatever's in the system is going to get out of it. That's just it's Murphy's Law. It's just going to happen, and it does happen. So we'd have steam leaks, you'd have to deal with steam leaks on board a ship, you'd have water leaks, but I mean, you're going to always have that sort of problem. And so what they did at Idaho National Lab with Experimental Breeder react To was they said, Alright, let's get rid of the these loops concept and let's just have a pool. And so they put it in this pool. So the reactors kind of down at the bottom and the center part of the pool, and it's got a chimney that goes up, so that heat rises. So it goes up the chimney. So the sodium flows in through the bottom gets heated by the reactor and it rises up because it's less than Yeah, and then it goes out. And then you have the intermediate heat exchangers actually physically in the pool that are that are high up, and then the same goes down through there gets sucked into the pumps and injected back in, and it just looks, so there's no nothing outside of that. And that's in a hermetically sealed steel cylinder with no extra penetrations other than those at the top coming down and in so your risk of a sodium leak is like zero. And not only that is that you have to pipe to wall. So you've got a an inner wall, and you've got an outer wall. And so you've got a two layer protection atmosphere from that, if you even do it a week from the inside of your containment. So it's a in terms of that, it's like, okay, that's, that's great. The other part of it is, is that water under, you have to get to really high pressures to get it to not boil. So in terms of Pressurized Water Reactors, 2500 psi, please forgive me, if I don't know that number in bar, off the top of my head for all USI junkies out there, that so 2500 psi is pretty typical for what you'll find in a pressurized water reactor, boiling water reactors are going to be around 1000 psi, just because of where the the steam turbines are designed for those systems. So it goes That's the saturation that's associated with the saturation temperature for the for the steam at that pressure. So the reactors at saturation temperature for boilers. So you have your primary cool and both of those reactors is pressurized, anything that's pressurized is going to try even that much harder to get out of it well with with sodium systems, the system is not pressurized, it has a slight pressure on it, maybe about three psi, four psi. So what would that be like half of so far is about an atmosphere. So maybe a 10th 10th of a bar or something like that, just very minuscule pressure just on the top just to keep from air from coming in, and then just put an inert gas and on the top of it and leave it alone. And so it's very low pressure, while the sodium is hot, it has relatively low enthalpy because it's not pressurized. And your point to boiling your boiling point for sodium is so much above where you would ever see that you're not even you're not going to be at risk of boiling the the coolant so you don't have to worry about it being as pressure tight.


Chris Keefer  28:09  

So all of this All of this points towards I mean obviously the PW our fleet is incredibly safe, but is it point towards savings in terms of you know, having to build lots of containment like what what are the what are the real world ramifications,


Cal Abel  28:23  

your containment structure simplified, because your piping is contained in this thing. The whole reactor module is shippable. So GE had two different module sizes, they had a 430 megawatt thermal and then an 840 megawatt thermal, the 430 megawatt thermal was rail shippable. The 840 megawatt thermal was barge shippable. And so the idea was to basically assemble this stuff in a factory shipped to the site, drop it in, it's all seismically isolated and mounted. So in terms of seismic containment is that it's, it's completely and you can't really do that with a pressurized water reactor because your systems are so spread out. But if your systems are so concentrated because they're in one little thing, you can isolate it that much better from the environment. And that's really where a lot where the benefits come from. So it's low energy, it's isolated. And then the other thing is sodium has a ridiculously high thermal conductivity which means that it moves heat very easily. What they did at EBR two as they started out with oxide fuel because it isn't


Chris Keefer  29:33  

just for reference in terms of the history of the development, we go EBR to two IFR to prism is that


Cal Abel  29:40  

well EBR two kind of was became IFR, gotcha. So, and really what IFR and I'll get into that here in a second. So, they started with at aebr to using oxide fuel, which is the conventional fuel that we use is uranium oxide. So Do you owe to in selenium oxide as well. So it's a mixed Oxide Fuel technically. And they did that they ran, it worked great. But oxygen fuels store a lot of thermal energy in them. Because it's like a, it's like a coffee cup, right. So your coffee cup is a ceramic. So this fuels are ceramic, and ceramics are very, are good insulators, which is why we use them for our coffee cups. But it means that once they get hot, they stay hot, because they have a lot of energy stored in them. And so what they did was is in order to minimize that amount of energy that was stored in there, they shifted to metal fuel. So it was a is a, we use the word eutectic. eutectic in metallurgy just means a mixture of different metals. And so you mix uranium with plutonium with zirconia. And you use those three metals together. And you so it's an alloy, so it's an alloy fuel and you cast it, and you put it in stainless steel tubes. And because it's a metal with and you put a little bit of sodium in there to thermally bonded, so you have metal going to metal going to metal going to metal to get it into the coolant, and then from the coolant going from metal and going with my design into assault. So it's very, your, your, your temperature differences across that whole thing are very low because your thermal conductivity is are ridiculously high because you're all dealing with mouse. So you don't have the stored energy in the system. So when you have something bad happen The You Can one of the one of the actions that I ran was where there was a salt rupture on the salt side and the reactor did not scram. And it just kept going. Okay, and it's called. Okay, yeah, being the ultimate heatsink. Oh, effectively the ultimate heatsink for this, but the but I couldn't. So the reactor did not scram, there was no protective action for it and I ran it up for seven days and the reactor shut itself down. And so when you don't have that energy in the system, you can not literally not do anything and the reactor will shut itself down for days.


Chris Keefer  32:21  

Okay, so I might be pre empting this but you know if SFR is sodium fast reactors if this design is so cool, why hasn't it taken off? And you know, I hear I think it sounds like the only sort of economic deployed fast reactors you know, you mentioned super Phoenix and I think a Japanese experiment the only ones that have kind of gone to market it seems are Rosa Tom's B N series the bn 600 be an 801st off are those loop or pool and you know, are how are they doing economically? And again, why why isn't this concept taking off? Just because John Kerry killed at 9094? What's What's your read on that


Cal Abel  32:57  

the eight hundreds are pool and I'm pretty sure the six hundreds are cool to the Russians are using Oxide Fuel and there's not metal fuel, metal fuel is more of an American thing. The Japanese and the French also used oxide fuels as well. So really the innovation with the metallic fuel, I would attribute mainly to be an American one. There might be some other people who have done that, not to my knowledge, so please don't quote me. But the so the reason why they shifted to the metallic fuel was because the the lower energy was one but the other one was that solve the problem with how you go about reprocessing the fuel. All these other ones, the reprocessing that they do is conventional uranium reduction, oxidation, our uranium reduction extraction, like what the French tourists and your ex Sagan,


Chris Keefer  33:56  

what the French do at The Hague, is that correct? Yeah, okay. And you recover, you know, 10 15% or something is that


Cal Abel  34:05  

good at all? Okay, you get it all. The problem that they have is that the minor actinides don't come the plutonium comes over but the other minor actinides don't.


Chris Keefer  34:16  

And then just to find minor actinides for the beginner.


Cal Abel  34:21  

Okay, so minor actinides. The other one that I'll also use to describe them are called Trans ceramics. So you're heavier than your body. So it's basically uranium, everything past uranium. So neptunium plutonium, Emory's and curium, berkelium, I mean all the sure California, so really you kind of go up to about California with with reactors. So basically neptunium to California, that kind of that, that spectrum there. Those are your minor act and well, yeah, the plutonium is kind of separate because it's special. But everything else is kind of considered your minor actinides I guess technically plutonium is also minor actinide or transatlantic. So you'll see it as a as a radiation or Tru.


Chris Keefer  35:08  

So I mean, is that are the Russian sodium fast reactors proving to be more economic or better than water fleet? Or I mean it certainly there's a bunch being built. But they're not the dominant Russian technology at this point. What's What's your read, though, on the American front as to why we haven't, I mean, there's not been a new reactor license other than the P 1000. Since the NRC was founded. Is that the issue? I mean, is it because the way you're painting this it just sounds like Well, man, this is amazing. We can close the fuel cycle we can use old waste or depleted uranium and these things are simpler to build, etc. I mean, nuclear, like unlike things like iPhones and you know, information technology, power plants don't operate according to Moore's law, they obey more basic laws of physics and take much longer to I think it for innovations to trickle down and to scale is that is that your read or again, in terms of why sodium fast reactors aren't more ubiquitous or haven't made it further maybe not just in the US but in the West? Like with the Super Phoenix, etc.


Cal Abel  36:10  

So in the US, what really held back sodium fast reactors was Hyman Rickover. And his experience with Seawolf. That was a loop type sodium fast reactor.


Chris Keefer  36:22  

No submarine. Yes. Okay. Yeah,


Cal Abel  36:25  

yeah, so the second so the second submarine the second nuclear powered submarine was a Sea Wolf. And that one was a sodium fast reactor. The Russians use a lot of metallic coolant reactors like their Alpha class submarines are actually cooled by molten beryllium. So they were a thermal reactor that had a metal coolant of molten beryllium. I mean, the Russians really did. At that time, Soviets did some really weird and wacky stuff. So in the US, I could probably put it at Hyman Rickover. And then experiences with Fermi control of a breeder reactor, also kind of hampered that. The French gave it a shot with super Phoenix, and Phoenix and super Phoenix. I think they've kind of lost the appetite for it because they already had 80% of their power coming from Pressurized Water Reactors. And so they just kind of walked away from it. Monju in Japan had a lot of technical problems. And so the Japanese just kind of walked away from again, it was a loop type reactors that really had the problems. The Russians are building more than bn eight hundreds. So I would say that's a positive sign. I don't really know what the Chinese are doing. But that is how you talk about closing the fuel cycle. So the other we didn't really talk about this is what what the IFR is. So you asked me about, you know, was EBR to the success was the predecessor for IFR well EBR two really was the IFR there was a reactor part of the IFR in the fuel, and so they were testing the fuel, validating the fuel, doing all sorts of fun stuff with the fuel to qualify. And that's really what they're using for an atrium is the EPR to experience what IFR is, is incorporating pyrometallurgical processing, where you take lithium chloride salt, and you electrochemically dissolve the fuel once you chop it up in there, so the stainless steel won't dissolve. But the uranium, the plutonium, and all the other minor actinides will. And then you separate the uranium out from the others it actually forms like this really cool. It looks like electric or like lightning would look to call the dendrite. It's like this, this lattice structure of all these little tendrils that go up like hair. And then the minor actinides build up and then you pull those out at a different at a cadmium cathode. And they just dissolve in the cadmium, the molten cadmium so they so you separate those two out and then you're left with the fission products in the salt. And then you can just pull the fission products out of the salt fission products decay away and three engineers, there's no 10,000 100,000 year that you have to hold it because all those minor actinides that you pulled out of the cadmium cathode, you shove back into the fuel and it's perfectly good reactor fuel. I like to think of faster neutrons as the honeybadger of neutrons. They just don't care. They're going so fast. They're going so fast that everything looks the same to them.


Chris Keefer  39:45  

And another benefit of SFR sodium fast reactors, you know, there are concerns. I had Simon meesho on. He's with the Finnish Geologic Survey. He's a bit bearish on nuclear, because you know, he says even if we could Hit world record deployment and get 25 Pressurized Water Reactors out the door every year, you know, we're likely to consume at least our proven reserves of uranium and there are certainly more to be found and lower or grades, etc. But within 70 years, you know, these anxieties about running out of uranium. I mean, there's also sea water extraction that's maybe possible though, you know, these are pretty dilute sources. But sodium fast reactors are fast reactors in general seem to be able to push out our you know, future use of uranium for long ass time. Do you have a sense of how long ass that is?


Cal Abel  40:32  

To give you perspective, if the US were to use get all of his energy from uranium? So like, let's just wave a magic wand. Magic one. All US energy comes from uranium. The US has mined in its depleted uranium reserves from our weapons program and uranium enrichment for all the years that we've had nuclear power. We have enough energy without having to dig in the ground sitting is uranium hexafluoride to last us for over 2000 years. Okay, so let's let's so


Chris Keefer  41:07  

let's confidently say that it certainly extends our uranium reserves


Cal Abel  41:13  

Yeah. So, your your waste liability goes to 300 years and your and your fuel possibility becomes infinite. Where I see the fuel cycles going is uranium is a really good fast fuel and thorium is a good thermal fuel. So, back in 80, something or another Rickover pushed for what was called the lightwater breeder reactor, and he took shipping port and put thorium Oxide Fuel pins in there and turned that reactor into a breeder. A light or Pressurized Water Reactor became a breeder reactor. And and so is that we're going to have to maximize what we call the conversion ratio and conversion ratio is how many So what drives a nuclear reactor reaction is called the fissile material which means easily fission. So people will say fizzle fizzle. It's the same thing. It's like Potato Potato. And so the fissile material is what drives reactor for all reactors


Chris Keefer  42:31  

doesn't matter the type and that's uranium and plutonium, right?


Cal Abel  42:35  

Uranium 235 Yes and plutonium two for naturally occurring uranium, plutonium 239 for the for the plutonium. And then based off the thorium fuel cycle is uranium 233. So, we have three predominant fissile isotopes, uranium 233, uranium 235, plutonium 239. You could also throw atonium 241 in there too. But you got you get the idea. So, it's kind of like those odd numbered ones. Those are the ones that that like to split apart. So, the conversion ratio is how much of that do you have to burn in order to get more out of it. And so you're looking at, you want to have a conversion ratio above one so if you're above one, you're a quote unquote breeder reactor, if you're less than one, you're a burner reactor, so you have burners and breeders, all light water reactors now are all burners can do is use natural uranium, but they're using the euro, the naturally occurring uranium 235 as and as point seven 1% of the uranium in there to drive those reactions.


So that's CANDU. So I mean, I kind of kind of lost track there for a second.


Chris Keefer  43:54  

So we're gonna talk about fissile and you're probably gonna get onto


Cal Abel  43:57  

Okay, so physical conversion ratio. So, you get more so candies are burners, Pressurized Water Reactors are burners. boilers, water reactors are burners. fast breeder reactors are obviously breeder. So you want you in order to, you have to get fissile material. So you can enrich uranium to get enough fissile material. So, like 5% 20%, and rich, so you can enrich the uranium to get it, or you can breed your fissile material, if you've got a breeder. And so if you turn all your actors into breeders, then you're producing all the fissile material that you ever are going to consume. And then with these reactors, you can play around with the conversion ratio based off of what the market conditions are. So if you're not, if you don't have a market and you have a good inventory of fissile material eventually, then you can shift it to being a more of a burger. Okay, so let's


Chris Keefer  44:50  

let's, for the sake of the time we have today, I really want to get to something we're chatting about before, which is we've talked now about the role of sodium fast reactors. Um, you know that we can simplify containment shrink the emergency protection zone, I believe it's called Planning zone. We can operate some higher temperatures, maybe get higher thermal efficiencies, we can dump heat into molten salts because we're getting a higher sort of steam output, etc. Or just directly transferring to the salt. Okay. But you talk about and you've talked about, like the trillions of dollars of fossil fuel infrastructure that already exists. You were talking about, you know, I think obviously, about the the steam side of coal plants, but I think also about the potential for sin fuels and replacing other fossil fuel services. So here's where I'm curious. And you've planted this teaser, which is we swap out sodium fast reactor for the heat source for a coal plant, but we keep shipping coal there. Why? And is it just because you're a coal miner?


Cal Abel  45:49  

No, the reason why I'm a coal miner is because of what I figured out. So I got this I got to hear because I'm a nuclear junkie. It is it is this. Coal is an incredible source of fixed carbon. It's, it is almost pure fixed carbon, our coal in our mineral is about 65% carbon in about 12%, Ash. So you've got you've got sulfur, nitrogen, oxygen, carbon, all the stuff in there. So it's kind of Milou of things. If you burn it, you have to deal with all the commercial products that come off of it. So it actually is an oxide, sulfur oxides, particulate, because the ash, I mean, it's it and it produces heat. It works. It's what gave us our civilization. But I think coal is much more valuable as liquid fuel. And the reason why is if you so when you gasify coal, you remove all the particulate, you remove all the sulfur, you remove all the nitrogen that's in there, you basically get carbon monoxide and hydrogen, when you gasify it. And you convert that into liquid fuels. And if you use low temperature fish or trash, what you end up getting is you get something that selectively creates jet fuel and diesel fuel. So kind of like those mid distillates get selectively created with low temperature fish or trash. And so you then become this have this ability to be able to produce all this, this fuel, I went to a coal Gen conference, and present an idea of I live in Atlanta, and presented this idea of repowering, the coal plant that was in Kavita County and using the nuclear reactors that I was working with and producing syn fuels there and installing the pipeline for the jet fuel to go up to the Atlanta Hartsfield airport. So that one coal plant supplies more fuel than Atlanta, Hartsfield consumes, so you'd be able to locally source your fuel.


Chris Keefer  48:00  

And we learned we learned from BF Randall and I mean, I've subsequently heard this from several other prominent thinkers, whose names I'm blanking on at the moment, but the relative value of diesel in particular as kind of the pumping heart of civilization in terms of all of the heavy duty vehicles that we run, like around the clock, be it you know, hauler trucks for mining, you know, trucks that deliver our food tractors for agricultural etc. These are really hard to replace prime movers the diesel engine. So I get the rationale for selectively making this mid grade distillate without having to make all this gasoline which we're trying not to use, because we're trying to find other ways to decarbonize, transportation, maybe EVs, maybe something else, but what I'm what I'm not understanding here, and it's because I'm not a chemist, and I'm a doctor, and, you know, got the science education on the biology side is is this lower carbon, like, as you know, using this carbon source? How is this better? How much can you decarbonize with this approach? Or do you even decarbonize with this approach? And they'll have a fall


Cal Abel  49:03  

it depends on how you do it, okay. So, if you do it conventionally, it's actually more carbon intensive, even if you use nuclear heat for the air separation unit. So, you have to you have to supply heat into it, you save on on energy using heat steam from a nuclear reactor. So you kind of play a shell game with where your heat sources come from, see us try to use the heat from the reactor as much as possible, but you're just slightly above breakeven on the carbon intensity using a nuclear reactor coupled with coal gasification in terms of the the carbon intensity, where it gets where you get your savings and if you is if you convert all the co2 that you produce into carbon monoxide By using electrolysis, and then source your hydrogen, the bulk of your hydrogen, also through electrolysis using guess what nuclear reactor. So then what ends up happening is, if you're doing that, you end up reducing the carbon intensity of the fuel by 28%. So all those hydrocarbon bombs that you're now making, because you're making all the, an additional amount of carbon dioxide, or carbon monoxide, and you're making all this high hydrogen as a lot of hydrogen, you end up with about a 28% reduction in the carbon intensity of the fuel. Because the carbon is just a little, it's like little battery. So each little hydrogen atom that you stick on to it acts as like a little stored nuclear heat. So you've got all these little batteries floating around these hydrocarbon chains. And that's a heck of a lot easier to transport and deliver and do all this stuff with then then then with electric vehicle batteries, so you have lower carbon intensity, so don't make


Chris Keefer  51:05  

this. Yes, so I want to see what you're comparing carbon intensity to, but you know, what you're describing again, to, you know, I'm gonna bring up some skepticism, again, without a serious engineering ability to to assess the claims here, but it sounds I mean, it's certainly not as Rube Goldberg II, as you know, balancing a grid with intermittent energy. But it sounds like you have a bunch of processes running and may have scalability problems, they may be not economic, when they're all combined, versus just drilling for crude per se, although we are trying to maybe pay a bit extra to do a process that's less carbon intensive. Certainly, you know, in introducing this episode, I was talking about pragmatic versus puritanical responses to Decarbonization. And again, BF Randall really shone a light on this idea that, you know, obviously, there's a whole bunch of embedded emissions in a battery electric vehicle, the promises over its lifetime, you might lose a bit, you might use a bit less carbon than burning gasoline for the life of the car. However, what he was pointing out is that, you know, these are very mineral intensive processes, and there's a shit ton of diesel that goes into mining all of the elements that go into the the BV. So I think what's important to emphasize here is that a battery electric vehicle is not a zero carbon device. There's a whole bunch of embedded carbon, and it's not puritanical. It sure looks that way. It's marketed that way. It's flashy. But there is no sort of zero carbon vehicle out there. So are you comparing your carbon intensity with what you're describing to a battery electric vehicle or to a combustion vehicle? Or do we even know the true kind of embedded carbon in these different approaches?


Cal Abel  52:39  

I'm comparing it to oil, oil. Okay. So I'm comparing. So if you have to choose between liquid fuels, so if you're producing as much as theoretically possible gasifying coal and using nuclear heat, with the electrolysis, that I was talking about, electrolysis has some has some technical issues right now with scaling. So it works on small scales. I just did some back of the envelope calculations in for like, repowering, a 1.3 gigawatt coal plant, if you were to liquefy all that coal into liquid fuels and have zero emissions coming out of the facility? That would, you'd need to have like about a million of these little electron electrolytic cells. And that's not that's not practical. If you had 100, you could make it work. So there's, there's an engineering scalability with a solid, solid oxide electrolytic cells. So this is a high temperature 700 degree Celsius type reaction stuff. So it? So what I'm saying, is it technically possible yes. Is it? Is it fully scalable at this point? No. However, you can start building the infrastructure out in order to get there, and then work on the technology. And refining the engineering of that, as you go along to try and increase your yields incrementally.


Chris Keefer  54:05  

More is more scalable than fusion. That's a bit of a joke here right now. But we had some years. Yeah. And I mean, it gets all the hype. I don't hear much, much hype about this. But I mean, you know, another concern and you know, concerns about peak oil sort of got parked on the bookshelf, as the fracking revolution took off. But you know, fracking is the source rock, we're putting a really big straw into the end of the milkshake and slurping up a whole bunch. We're still facing Peak Oil concerns. So I mean, if this is a replacement for crude, which let's face it is kind of a lifeblood of the world economy. Maybe there's more of an impetus to do this. I guess I'm wondering about, you know, is this viable? I mean, Bill Gates, in his book about climate talked, talked a lot about, you know, paying the green premium and that, you know, if we just as he's very much a kind of an investor class guy and a guy who believes in climate change, solutions being sort of very much Getting consumer driven, but essentially, you know, if we can, you know, invest and innovate technologies, say, between a gas vehicle and an Eevee and get them to price parity, then consumers will make the choice and it's going to just, you know, will drive nicely downhill. Now, the green premium strikes me as thinking that's kind of the 2010 thinking when you know, all of our sources of primary energy dropped, you know, peak to trough 90%, uranium oil, coal and natural gas, we've been living a really cushy decade of low cost, energy, low cost, capital, you know, very cheap credit. You know, when we do these processes that are less economic, maybe a lower er Ovi, if that is the case with what you're describing, you know, are they actually viable in an economy that's kind of teetering a little bit that's, you know, hyped up on credit and potentially heading into, you know, recession or kind of imposed Degrowth? I know, this is a big pregnant question, but interested in yourself.


Cal Abel  55:55  

So I'll try and stick to the more technical stuff. So has this been done at scale? What I'm talking about with the coal liquification? Yes, South Africa sazzle. So South African state oil company, I think is what Sasol stands for. They are using basically lurgy gasifiers with high temperature fish or trash in to produce predominantly gasoline, some diesel. So they've had it for optimized for what they need in their country. For sazzle, what they could do, if there's a South African out there listening to this, drop in some some Nigerian reactors in there and start shifting, where you're getting your heat from, in order to drive your chemical processes from nuclear reactor, it will reduce the amount of you have to, you have to get heat from someplace in order to do anything. So if you're taking some of your feedstock and water supply your heat, then you're reducing the efficiency. So but if you've got a heat source that's independent of your feedstock, then one or 2%, your feedstock goes into your product. And then you can start optimizing your your process design for for maximizing recovery. And really the the fundamental feedstock with the coal is the carbon. So you can start then optimizing your process design for that. But the first step is change out your heat source. Another one would be in oil refineries. So a oil refineries anywhere in the world, all their temperatures, for the most part, probably less than 600 degrees Celsius, they do have some stuff that's in the 700 to 800. But, you know, make sure it gets you close little oxygen, and some of your product will get you the rest of the way. So you're using a lot less of your product in order to drive your your process. So again, oil we're finding you drop your your carbon intensity, or you can look at it from the point standpoint that I like looking at it from is that you are maximizing, maximizing your product yield on a scarce resource. And so nuclear in any of those applications is going to help help them do that. And that's something that they should be doing. Now with the nutrient reactor, because it works


Chris Keefer  58:25  

again, I again, I've been very influenced by Nate Hagens work we're going to have him on in January podcast is called the great simplification. That's his podcast. And again, he's very concerned about kind of the end of economic growth occurring. I mean, a because exponential functions lead us to consuming the entire energy of the sun, I think in 1400 years of 2.5% economic growth, but be because energy is the fundamental currency, and we are running into depletion of our fossil fuel reserves and declining year. Oh, yes. So, you know, I think what holds back nuclear is when there's abundant sources of fossil energy, and when we see those constraints, such as the OPEC crisis, or the current energy crisis, all of a sudden nuclear is back on the agenda. Now, it's still facing a massive uphill battle because of the burden of regulation, because of incompetent industrial policy, because of incompetent energy ministers or ministers of the ecological transition, as they're called in Europe, and many countries. But I'm wondering, you know, let's get to a theoretical place where we're starting to see economic growth really constrained by hard limits on fossil energy and fossil fuel depletion. Do you think that, you know, with a regulatory environment and industrial policy environment that's optimized for Holy shit, guys, we need to make up for this fossil fuel energy so our economies don't collapse? That, you know, things like the nature of them could be deployed at scale quickly enough to do some of these processes because again, what you're talking about is an energy source that can do electricity that can do load following and hopefully peaking to some degree that can replace I guess some process heat applications with a lot of fossil fueled processes or requiring 1000s of degrees of temperature, but also be a feedstock for sin fuels to use our existing infrastructure, be it you know, the railroads that carry the coal to these sites, all of our, you know, hydrocarbon infrastructure in terms of, you know, gas vehicles, diesel engines, which really do seem to be unreplaceable. Yeah, so do you hear? So I guess the fundamental, the fundamental question is, could we, you know, removing all over the human constraints, you know, regulatory and just the idiocy of poor industrial policy and political cycles that don't allow long term thinking, let's say all of that we could control and align, could you deploy these things fast enough to start to make up for declining fossil fuel inputs, so that we don't crash the global economy and head into some terminal Degrowth and all of the nastiness of, you know, scarce resource competition and what humans do to each other when they're fighting over scarcity? So


Cal Abel  1:01:04  

here's so here's so I think what we're starting to see is you were right, the energy constraints kind of limit where we are, and we're getting conflict through those, those energy constraints, because we're having to compete over those scarce resources. Because energy is is is wealth. And we are, so when we compete for energy, we are competing for wealth. When we restrict energy to the developing world, we're restricting their access to wealth and wealth creation. So a lot of policies, I do a lot of work in the developing world as well. A lot of the policies that we have are actually about preserving the existing economic order in the world by preventing the economic growth in the developing world, which is Central America, Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. And it's a it's a shame. So waving my magic one, we get rid of those barriers, and we start rapidly growing energy everywhere in the world. All right, so what does this look like?


Chris Keefer  1:02:14  

Okay, can you do that? Yeah. Do with with nuclear?


Cal Abel  1:02:18  

Oh, yeah. Ships. Okay. All ships. These things are massive nuclear power.


Chris Keefer  1:02:25  

You're talking about like the big super carrier, like, I mean, obviously, not little fishing boats, but you're talking about the que class or whatever they're called. It gets stuck in this was Yeah, kind of boats. Yeah, so


Cal Abel  1:02:35  

so. So like a VLCC. For your larger ships. I had a Twitter thread, looking at using a Molten Salt Reactor based off of the air Nuclear Propulsion Program with a LM 2500. Derivation gas turbine, where you're just heating air with the salt from the reactor. So that was basically what they did for the ANP. And like, this would work on a ship. So we do that. And so I have a Twitter thread on that. So if anybody's interested in that to


Chris Keefer  1:03:11  

work, we're again playing in this imaginary kind of no human, no regulatory constraints world, but but also, but also, I mean, I think the most fundamental human restraint is precisely what Rickover gave us, which was people like you who are highly trained in nuclear and could transition into the civilian fleet. And, you know, the human resource constraint, we don't have gazillions of people that can run nuclear reactors on VLCC ships, for instance. I mean, that's, I think, probably the the most critical constraint on a nuclear renaissance, particularly doing it in time to deal with the end of, you know, our carbon pulse, or, you know,


Cal Abel  1:03:43  

I have trained 1000s, literally 1000s of high school, well, 19 year old 19 and 20 year olds, ranging from 19 to 2319 to 23 year olds, that kind of that high school psychology age, kids how to run nuclear reactors, I've trained 1000s of them


Chris Keefer  1:04:01  

in the past, and then


Cal Abel  1:04:02  

in the Navy. Very cool. It is not rocket science. It requires, it requires, I mean, seriously, it requires a little bit of it can't be stupid, that you have procedures, so you train them to do is to follow the procedures. It's like a pilot, I guess. It's like a pilot, I'm also a pilot. So that's, that's another thing and the resumes is just


Chris Keefer  1:04:28  

what they want you to do if you follow


Cal Abel  1:04:30  

procedures. And so you train them to follow procedures, you try to teach them to understand what the procedures mean. Some of them, bless their hearts, they try, but they don't get it, but they know to follow the procedures. And then the ones that do. Those are the ones that you do try to try to promote. And so you get, you'll get get a sorting in there, but it's really the procedures. So and that's easy. It's easy enough to do. It's just a it's just another technical application. It's not it's not difficult. It's actually a lot of fun. So that's to get the operators, I don't see that as a problem in terms of, of the reactors. So you said a lot of the processing, so I looked at us processing use as part of my dissertation to try and figure out, you know, how much could this energy storage I call it nuclear thermal energy storage? How much market potential could that have in the processing world? Turns out, it's about 60%. So 60% of process heat use in the US falls below 450 degrees Celsius. You get into the 80% range when you go up to about 700 degrees Celsius. And then you have the outliners outliers, that are cow signing and steel refining, and those in the 1200 degrees Celsius range


Chris Keefer  1:05:57  

in the time we have left, and it's just a few minutes. But give us the kind of Cal Abel, you know, pragmatic Decarbonization plan that seems to also be puritanical from the perspective of getting us as low as possible, but not delusional about the fact that there's not going to be some embedded carbon and some fossil fuel inputs and maybe coal as a carbon input for synth fuels. But I think you've touched on it, but I think it'd be a great summary. You mentioned nuclear nuclear propulsion for large shipping syn fuels, but just just give us that rundown in the time we have left here, the Cal Abel Decarbonization plan,


Cal Abel  1:06:29  

first free power every single coal facility out there with nature and based reactors. That also counts for molten salt reactors as well. I don't have a thing against Molten Salt Reactors. I pick what works


Chris Keefer  1:06:44  

but but so far, we have much more operational experience with SFRs than molten salt reactors and actual ones that work professionals. Okay,


Cal Abel  1:06:51  

so repower every single coal facility out there with that, keep all the coal coming to those coal facilities and start producing liquid fuels using coal from the nuclear heat. Worry about optimizing as you go along. Every single oil refiner that's out there in the world, add nuclear reactors in there, and you'll cover about 90% of your process heat demand on the site.


Chris Keefer  1:07:14  

And that's happening with Dow Chemical annex energy apparently,


Cal Abel  1:07:17  

that's on their roofs, and they're using it and they're using a high temperature gas reactor, if I'm not mistaken. Yes, that's and I'm not a big fan of high temperature reactors. I just don't like high energy systems. I like low energy systems, okay, but Carry on, carry on, carry on. All right. So repower. Use your heat for those things to maximize product yield. So the hydrocarbons are scarce, they're valuable, maximize their recovery, stop burning them, when you don't have to


Chris Keefer  1:07:48  

vital feedstock for you know, 6000 things minute a barrel of oil, field style, all kinds of important shit like fertilizer, for instance, although maybe we can decarbonize it all


Cal Abel  1:07:57  

you can decarbonize a lot. So you can, you can actually shift haber bosch to be entirely nuclear powered with electrolysis, so it's just sourcing the hydrogen. So cheap source of hydrogen, methane, okay, let's use water. So you can use so use nuclear as much as possible in these process applications like haber bosch. And so now, as you're starting to optimize, so you've shifted, effectively electricity away from cars. You've decarbonize electricity.


Chris Keefer  1:08:32  

Yeah. Off the get go. Yeah, that seems like the easy thing.


Cal Abel  1:08:35  

That's the as the low hanging fruit. Next is you decarbonize oil production. And that sounds weird to say that, but the production and the refining of the oil is decarbonized. So the refiners are emitting carbon dioxide as they're refining the oil, because right now they're burning stuff in order to refine oil. So stop doing that. Yeah, decarbonize oil production. Use coal continue to use coal because of valuable feedstock to produce more liquid fuels. So as your oil resources die, your coal ramps up, and so that you're able to really optimize your, for your carbons for plastics. And plastics are huge oil. I'm


Chris Keefer  1:09:22  

a doctor, I know how key plastics,


Cal Abel  1:09:25  

I mean, so. So you do that. So you get so you're using nuclear as much as possible in that, and I'd say you probably be able to get in terms of primary energy pretty easily 70% doing this with nuclear oil, or sorry, iron refining. It's using. There's a process out there called Midrex, which is a gasification and you could almost even make that entirely closed loop where you recycle the carbon monoxide and the hydrogen in there. So you, you produce a cup make carbon monoxide and hydrogen from electrolytic cells, they've reduced the iron. So they absorbed oxygen from the iron ore, leave the raw iron behind, that comes out of the reactor, run that through electrolytic cell, put that back in, and you just have a closed loop iron. So all these things you can do.


Chris Keefer  1:10:19  

So I guess question for you, again, we're talking and again, we're playing in a big land of hypotheticals, which would require a lot of alignment in terms of industrial policy, etc. We've, we've said that we've got that, do you PERS based on your your knowledge, you know, in the fossil fuel industry as well. You know, just as you can't build a wind turbine with a wind turbine in terms of powering all the processes that go into the supply chain to build the wind turbine, certainly, as you build out this nuclear Dreamland we're talking of, you know, it's fossil fuels are gonna we're gonna supply most of the energy to do that, whether it's the metallurgy or you know, just every every goddamn fossil fuel service there is, and there's a fuck ton of them. Do you think there's enough fossil fuels left to do that? Are we going to consume all of those remaining hydrocarbons, just to get the system booted up?


Cal Abel  1:11:05  

There's enough. Okay. There's enough fossil fuels to get us there. I do think, yeah.


Chris Keefer  1:11:10  

But we need to act with some urgency and a line on this. Yes,


Cal Abel  1:11:15  

yeah. What we do have is valuable. And we need to be smart about how we use it.


To really do that energy transition. Do I think we have a little longer than what we might feel like, probably, because we haven't really kind of, like with coal we've, we have the like, the easy stuff that we've mined has been easy. We have mined the hard stuff, and the hard stuff still there. And then there's, there's hydrocarbons everywhere. So we'll find out. We'll figure out ways of extracting them. I'm not as worried about that. So I think we've got some more time. But prudence is if you've got something that's valuable, don't waste it. And the hydrocarbons that we have are valuable. So wasted, burn them where you want to burn them. Burn them in your mining equipment. We are not ever ever going to stop mining. We are going to we are going to be mining until we are no longer species. Yes, sir. We're going to be mining asteroids here pretty soon God willing.


Chris Keefer  1:12:21  

That I mean, maybe see for first but anyway, yeah,


Cal Abel  1:12:24  

my. That's


Chris Keefer  1:12:28  

a diesel powered and that's diesel powered. That's decent. I mean, this was funny because you know, after that Randall episode, we had people saying, you know, okay, as diesels provide high torque at low RPMs. But hey, electric motors can do that too. And then I learned about these hauler trucks. And they are fucking electric generators that power electric motors that turn the wheels just like a diesel powered diesel electric locomotive. So no, it's not, you know, not that and obviously the haulers we also had John Russell, write a nice article inspired by BF Randles episode, which was looking at the charging times for these vehicles. You know, if you were to run a battery hauler with a 19 ton lithium ion battery, they only run for about 55 minutes before needing a new charge which makes mining complete and economical. I mean,


Cal Abel  1:13:11  

when you're when you're running when you're running a mining operation and you're doing two shifts, you've got 212 hour shifts, your mining equipment is running 10 hours on those on his 12 hour shifts. So 20 out of 24 hours a day you're mining equipments running and you feel them up at each shift turnover. And then depending on lunch to there depends on how big the tanks are, you might have to fuel up in between. So literally like they'll have a fuel truck and they'll just go up go to the next one and then line them up on the big on the big on the big operations Yeah, you can't replace diesel for that airplanes jet Jet A incredible fuel. Absolutely incredible fuel, like flying you like flying commercial, all commercial flights, all Jet A. And until we get like these hypersonic airplanes that are using hydrogen we're gonna be using Jet A man. So so the big stuff is Jet A for the airplanes and the diesel for the for the mining equipment debts. And so gearing ourselves to try and shift our, our focus towards preserving the things that can produce that will kind of maximize that.


Chris Keefer  1:14:23  

I guess I'm what am I a defensive pessimist? I've been diagnosed with that by Doomberg before. Anyway, I mean, scalability is a big question. I think we're running out of time today, Carl, but we've planted a lot of seeds, which we could, you know, start tending, watering, growing and chatting about a lot more. I again, I'm just fascinated about nuclear submarines and running reactors on these vessels. And I've, you know, talked a little bit about that with Rod. But I mean, I can have you back just for an episode on that. But I look forward to all of the conversations that this episode is going to spark. I think it's going to be similar to the BF Randall app. So, and I really appreciate your time you're busy guy. Pilots. What is it again? strongman competitor, coal miner, reactor designer probably missing a few other things but you got a lot of shit on your plate. So thanks for also now being a Decouple veteran Decouple podcast guest veteran, you can add that on the resume for whatever it's worth. I really appreciate you taking the time and having me on


Cal Abel  1:15:23  

Oh, economist, economist, I can talk with you. Yeah, yeah, I got pissed off and economists because they have no clue. They


Chris Keefer  1:15:30  

don't appreciate energy. Okay, no. All right. We'll leave it on that. We'll leave it on.


Cal Abel  1:15:37  

There's an economist that listens to this. I am calling you out.


Chris Keefer  1:15:41  

There's many there's many but we've got we got some good news pilled one. So anyway, Gal, we're gonna cut it for now. Thanks again for coming on.


Cal Abel  1:15:50  

Thank you.



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