Home » Pioneering plans for nuclear district heating move ahead following €2m raise

Pioneering plans for nuclear district heating move ahead following €2m raise

by Liam Turner
A cutaway CGI of Steady Energy's LDR-50 small modular reactor

Plans for the world’s first district heating plant with small modular reactor (SMR) nuclear technology have moved a step closer to becoming a reality following a €2m (c.£1.7m) seed raise by Finnish firm Steady Energy.

Steady Energy – a spin-out of the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland – aims to build the reactor by 2030.

The new funding – which has been secured from VTT, Yes VC, and Lifeline Ventures – will be used for research and development work to demonstrate the functionality of the plant by building a 1:1 scale mock-up powered by electric heat.

The plant will be based on Steady Energy’s LDR-50 small modular reactor (SMR), which has been in development at VTT since 2020.

The 50 MW reactor is designed to operate at around 150 degrees Celsius and below 10 bar (145 psi).

Steady Energy says its operating conditions are less demanding than those of traditional reactors, simplifying the technical solutions needed to meet the high safety standards of the nuclear industry.

The project has been part of VTT LaunchPad, a science-based spin-off incubator, where VTT researchers and technology are brought together with business leaders and investors to renew industries.

The reactor

The LDR-50 reactor module comprises two nested pressure vessels, with their intermediate space partially filled with water.

When heat removal through the primary heat exchangers is compromised, water in the intermediate space begins to boil, forming an efficient passive heat transfer route into the reactor pool.

The system does not rely on electricity or any mechanical moving parts, which could fail and prevent the cooling function.

The innovation was awarded a patent in 2021.

According to Steady Energy, the passive heat removal solution incorporated into the LDR-50 reactor plays a major role in its safety.

Passive systems make it possible to meet extremely high safety requirements with simplified technology.

The heating plant could even be used as a desalination plant to produce fresh water in areas of the world suffering from a water shortage, or it can be modified to produce steam for industrial purposes.

Steady Energy CEO Tommi Nyman says the pressure required by the LDR-50 reactor is comparable to that of a household espresso machine.

He said: “It operates at a lower pressure than a district heating network – this ensures that in case of a malfunction which leads to a leak, the leak is contained within the heating plant, without endangering people or the environment.”

He added: “Nuclear energy is already a major source of low-carbon electricity, and small modular reactors represent a pathway to expand the use of the technology to other energy sectors in addition to heating.

“On top of being safer than traditional reactors, SMRs are more affordable.”

European annual district heat consumption is approximately 500 TWh, of which some 300 TWh is produced by fossil fuels.

The 50 MW LDR-50 is sufficient for heating a small city, according to Steady Energy.

Nyman said: “We’re setting up a demonstration plant for district heating purposes ideally in Finland, but our long-term plan is to have several plants operating around the world, producing carbon-neutral heat to homes, offices, and for various industrial applications.

“We will bring to market the world’s best nuclear energy technology optimised for the heating sector.”

Steady Energy says it will plan its business models according to the needs of the customer and is ready to deliver heating plants directly to customers.

Image: A cutaway CGI of Steady Energy’s LDR-50 small modular reactor. Credit: Steady Energy

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