More than 2,000 GW of coal-fired capacity is operating in the world today, adding roughly 15 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year. A new initiative seeks to deliver a substantial portion of the clean electricity required to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 by replacing coal-fired boilers at existing power plants with advanced modular reactors (AMRs).

Design company Bryden Wood is working with Terra Praxis, a non-profit organization focused on climate action, to advance the Repowering Coal initiative. An engineering platform is under development to install advanced heat sources, including AMRs, to replace the coal-fired boilers at existing coal plants and enable continued use of existing infrastructure for emissions-free electricity generation.

A standardized, mass-customizable design solution will make it possible to use algorithmic design for key design tasks, simplify the review and approval process, and allow new nuclear systems to plug in to the existing coal plant infrastructure. A standardized cross-section design encloses the various types of reactor technologies while being able to expand to deal with various sizes of capacity that are required. The non-safety related systems for different reactors have strong similarities and can be standardized across different reactor technologies.

Artist’s rendering of a repowered coal-fired power plant. Source: Bryden WoodArtist’s rendering of a repowered coal-fired power plant. Source: Bryden Wood

A new digital infrastructure will enable design knowledge to be embedded in the building systems and design tools so that all parties can share progress and results in real time across all projects. Algorithmic design tools are under development to assess coal plant viability for AMR replacement; create initial concepts using a design configurator in just days and produce detailed design outputs for manufacturing. The structural components can then be mass produced by existing and new manufacturers and assembled on-site by non-nuclear specialists.

By 2027, fourth generation nuclear reactors will likely be available, and the engineering platform will be sufficiently developed to realize substantial carbon savings. In addition to large-scale deployment of renewables, the planned refurbishment of 2 TW of coal globally will mark progress toward the attainment of decarbonization goals.

To contact the author of this article, email shimmelstein@globalspec.com