Molten salt nuclear reactors and air-borne wind generatorsby Jonathan DuHamel on Apr. 05, 2012, under Energy
Science and engineering are about ideas, some practical, some not. I came across two stories of innovative ideas on electrical generation. I don’t know if either of these ideas is actually technically, commercially, or politically feasible, but both are interesting.
Molten salt reactor
Two MIT PhD candidates, Leslie Dewan and Mark Massie, came up with an ideal on how to generate electricity from spent fuel rods from conventional nuclear reactors. The idea is called Waste-Annihilating Molten Salt Reactor (WAMSR). They formed a corporation, Transatomic Power, to exploit their idea. According to their website: “WAMSR can be powered by nuclear waste because it uses radically different technology from conventional plants. Instead of using solid fuel pins, we dissolve the nuclear waste into molten salt. Suspending the fuel in a liquid allows us to keep it in the reactor longer, and therefore capture more of its energy. Conventional nuclear reactors can utilize only about 3% of the potential fission energy in a given amount of uranium before it has to be removed from the reactor. Our design captures 98% of this remaining energy.”
They designed a compact 200MWgenerator that can be transported to existing nuclear generation sites to process the conventional nuclear waste and generate more electricity. They claim such generators “can convert the high-level nuclear waste produced by conventional nuclear reactors each year into $7.1 trillion of electricity.” They also claim “a WAMSR reactor reduces the majority of the waste’s radioactive lifetime to hundreds of years from hundreds of thousands of years, thereby decreasing the need for permanent repositories such as Yucca Mountain.”
Air-borne wind farms
A helium-filled shell transports a wind turbine aloft where the winds are stronger enabling it to generate more electricity than a similar generator would produce at conventional tower height. This is another idea from MIT. A prototype of this contraption has successfully generated electricity from an altitude of 350 feet during a field test in Maine. See press release here.