Repowering coal plants to fight climate crisis

nuclear power plant.

By PETER MURPHY, Published in UBNow

Release date: March 1, 2022


SUNY Distinguished Professor Andrew Whittaker is part of a cohort led by TerraPraxis, a non-profit focused on action for climate and prosperity, that is developing a digital platform to repower coal plants using advanced nuclear energy. 

The project team, which includes the UK-based architectural and engineering consultancy Bryden Wood, MIT, Microsoft and KPMG, among others, aims to retrofit retired and operating coal-fired power plants with modular nuclear reactors while retaining the balance of the plant.

“The goal of the project is to repower 2 terawatts (TWe) of global coal capacity, starting with 250 gigawatts (GWe) of coal plants in the U.S.,” says Whittaker, SUNY Distinguished Professor in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering. “If we can repower 2TWe of coal plants in the next 20 years, we will have a fighting chance of achieving Paris 2050 climate targets.”

Representatives from Bryden Wood discussed the project during the 2021 COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow. The event at COP26, convened by TerraPraxis, brought together political leaders, industry specialists and investors to discuss ways to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5° C by 2050. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to meet the global temperature increase limit, human-generated CO2 emissions must reach net zero by 2050. This project will help achieve these goals. 

Getting to net-zero emissions by 2050 requires aggressive initiatives in several areas, including clean energy. Renewable, hydro, nuclear energy and thermal storage are all considered part of the clean energy mix, but for this to work, nuclear energy must become commercially viable. UB’s role in the project will address cost and other critical factors associated with the project.

“UB will provide input on the use of seismic isolation for advanced reactors; strategies for standardizing, or commodifying, plants to reduce capital cost and time to deploy, from 15 years to 4 years, cost drivers for nuclear; pathways to de-scope the required engineering of advanced reactors and simplify regulatory review and licensing; and engagement with stakeholders, customers, power utilities, advanced heat source developers and regulators in the U.S. and abroad,” Whittaker says.

Whittaker and the multidisciplinary TerraPraxis team, which includes civil, mechanical and nuclear engineers and designers, are adapting proven seismic isolation and damping technologies to standardize equipment, drive down cost and accelerate construction. Researchers are targeting a five-fold reduction in capital cost.

global goals.

Sustainable Development Goals:

7. Affordable & Clean Energy 

9. Industry, Innovation & Infrastructure 

13. Climate Action