Steady Energy, a startup originating from VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, aims to revolutionize the energy-intensive heating industry, starting with residential and district heating. Recently, the company successfully secured EUR 2 million in seed funding led by VTT, Yes VC, and Lifeline Ventures. This funding will be utilized by Steady Energy to conduct research and development activities aimed at showcasing the functionality of their innovative plant. The company plans to construct a 1:1 scale mockup, powered by electric heat, to demonstrate the potential of their groundbreaking concept.
By the year 2030, Steady Energy envisions the establishment of the world's first LDR-50 reactor-based heating plant. The LDR-50 district heating reactor is a compact modular nuclear reactor that has been under development at VTT since 2020. With a heat output of 50MW, the LDR-50 is designed to operate at temperatures around 150 degrees Celsius and at a pressure below 10 bar (145 psi). Compared to traditional reactors, the operating conditions of the LDR-50 are less demanding, which simplifies the technical requirements to meet the high safety standards of the nuclear industry.
According to Tommi Nyman, CEO of Steady Energy, the pressure required by the LDR-50 reactor is comparable to that of a household espresso machine, even lower than that of a district heating network. This unique feature ensures that in the event of a malfunction causing a leak, the leakage remains contained within the heating plant, posing no danger to individuals or the environment.
Heating constitutes approximately 50% of all energy consumption in European households. Out of the estimated 500 TWh of annual district heat consumption in Europe, around 300 TWh is currently produced by burning fossil fuels. The decarbonization of residential heating in Europe represents a market with immense growth potential, amounting to hundreds of billions of euros. Presently, there are approximately 3,500 district heating networks throughout Europe, catering to the needs of 60 million people. Unfortunately, these networks heavily rely on fossil fuels. However, successful large-scale decarbonization of district heating has the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Nyman highlights that approximately 75% of district heating systems in the European Union currently rely on fossil fuels, and the situation is even worse in China. Nuclear energy, already a major source of low-carbon electricity, holds the potential to extend its benefits to other energy sectors, including heating, through the utilization of small modular reactors (SMRs). These reactors are not only safer than traditional reactors but also more affordable. Steady Energy's goal is to establish a demonstration plant for district heating purposes, ideally in Finland, with a long-term vision of operating multiple plants worldwide. This will enable the production of carbon-neutral heat for residential, commercial, and industrial applications, making it the world's leading nuclear energy technology optimized for the heating sector.
Safety is of paramount importance in nuclear power, and the LDR-50 reactor incorporates a passive heat removal solution that plays a vital role in ensuring its safety. Passive systems enable the fulfillment of extremely stringent safety requirements through simplified technology.
The LDR-50 reactor module consists of two nested pressure vessels, with the intermediate space partially filled with water. In the event of compromised heat removal through the primary heat exchangers, the water in the intermediate space begins to boil, providing an efficient passive heat transfer route into the reactor pool. This system operates without relying on electricity or any mechanical moving parts that could fail and disrupt the cooling function. This innovative design was awarded a patent in 2021.
According to Timo Ahopelto, Founding Partner at Lifeline Ventures, Steady Energy is well-positioned to start its business in Finland due to the country's nuclear power expertise, national energy policy, and the presence of a world-class district heating network. Jyri Engeström, Founder and Partner at Yes VC, emphasizes that Europe and the United States have recognized the potential of small reactors and anticipate their integration into energy production within the current decade. The global market for small reactors is expected to be highly significant.
Jussi Manninen, Executive Vice President of VTT, asserts that VTT has been dedicated to driving scientific innovation for the betterment of the world and businesses for the past 80 years. Addressing the pressing issue of climate change, VTT is committed to exploring future technologies and developing cutting-edge solutions to build carbon-neutral societies. Steady Energy embodies this commitment and represents the hope that VTT aspires to bring to the world.
Steady Energy will tailor its business models to meet the specific requirements of its customers and is prepared to directly deliver heating plants to them. Each unit of the LDR-50 reactor has a capacity of 50 megawatts, making it suitable for heating a small city. Multiple reactors can be deployed in a single heating plant, and the technology can be adapted for other purposes such as desalination or steam production for industrial applications, particularly in areas suffering from water scarcity.
Tommi Nyman concludes by emphasizing the necessity of discontinuing combustion-based heating in order to preserve the planet and ensure a sustainable future for generations to come. Alongside renewable energy, nuclear energy provides a reliable source of power and heat that caters to the needs of modern society and contributes to the global fight against climate change.
The Steady Energy project has been incubated through VTT LaunchPad, a science-based spin-off incubator that brings together VTT researchers, technology, and entrepreneurial expertise with the aim of transforming industries. VTT LaunchPad supports incubator teams in developing VTT-owned intellectual property into viable spin-off companies.
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