Episode 9

Climate protection targets 2050 – which technology wins the race?

"But the energy mix itself is not everything, we have to do much much more. Industry has to change a lot, it has to reduce emissions significantly. "

Welcome to the 9th episode of "Querverlinkt - Technik über dem Tellerrand". After our last podcast on the topic of the 2050 climate protection target with Martin Schichtel from Kraftblock, we had so many questions that we decided to add another episode. Our conclusion on the question of being open to new technologies or clarity in technology was clear. We need the state to be open to new technologies so that climate-friendly energy production can come onto the market as quickly as possible. But which ones? How can we compare technologies and what quantitative indicators are there for comparison? We want to discuss this with Martin. For all those who were not on air last time: Martin is the founder of the company Kraftblock. As thermal storage systems, Kraftblock systems can store electricity in form of heat. This very innovative technology has sustainable and ecological aspects in mind.

Climate protection target 2050 - will one technology win the race?

Super exciting question - happy listening!



Thomas Sinnwell: In the last podcast, I had the pleasure of welcoming Dr. Martin Schichtel, CEO and founder of Kraftblock. We explored the question of whether being open to new technology or technological clarity is better for achieving the 2050 climate protection target. For those who have not heard the last episode: I would like to ask you, Martin, to introduce yourself.


Dr. Martin Schichtel: Thank you very much, Thomas! Thank you for allowing me to be here a second time, to answer some more questions. It is a super exciting topic.


Thomas Sinnwell: And a very extensive one.


Dr. Martin Schichtel: A very extensive one, yes, you could make a few podcasts out of it, definitely. My name is Martin Schichtel, I'm a chemist by training, worked a lot in the field of nanotechnology, material development, always been interested in science. Then I encountered the topic of renewable energy through various professional stages and ended up founding Kraftblock, where we produce energy storage devices to help with the energy transition.


Thomas Sinnwell: So I have the right person for this episode. After the production of the last podcast, Pia and I received a number of suggestions and questions. That was ultimately our reason to say: Let us ask Martin if he is willing to do a second episode, just to go into some of the topics in a little more detail. In addition, our conclusion in the last round was that being open to new technologies on part of the state would actually be an important prerequisite for achieving the climate protection goal. Furthermore, so that innovative technologies can be established as quickly as possible. We talked indirectly about the aspect of how one can compare these different technologies and whether there are quantitative indicators. Now I am the non-specialist on this topic in our group, but I was able to research four indicators. In addition, I would be happy if you could shed some light on them. Maybe I will just read it out very quickly now. On the one hand, there was the CO2 intensity, then the net energy balance, the energy payback time and the CO2 avoidance costs. I would like to start with the CO2 intensity: What is that?


Dr Martin Schichtel: With CO2 intensity, as with many other terms, you have quite different definitions. One definition, which I would call very loose, is actually more economic, namely that you evaluate the CO2, the emitted CO2, in relation to the gross domestic product, in order to evaluate the CO2 intensity in the production chain within a country. If your gross domestic product grows and your CO2 balance remains the same, great, you have improved, but not really. That is the case with China, for example. They are doing a lot in the area of CO2 reduction, gross domestic product is increasing gigantically, but CO2 is still growing from below. So all in all, it's a very, very soft factor that can be assessed well. It becomes a harder factor when you actually evaluate it in terms of energy, i.e. how much CO2 is produced in which production step, for example, in order to establish a production technology, to evaluate fuels, to evaluate energy production technologies. You can also calculate this very, very well theoretically. When you burn petrol, it is relatively clear to a chemist what happens in the process, how much CO2 is produced from the fuel?


Thomas Sinnwell: The fuel, the calorific value...


Dr. Martin Schichtel: And from that you can evaluate: a CO2 intensity.


Thomas Sinnwell: ... you know your value.


Dr. Martin Schichtel: Exactly! Then there are other technologies, which of course make it much more difficult, mostly those that no longer use combustion technologies in the classical sense: PV, wind energy, and to some extent nuclear power. They do have some kind of combustion, but it is not classic oxidative combustion. Of course, it is much more difficult to assess the CO2 intensity of such an energy producer.


Thomas Sinnwell: Good! Then there is also the idea of simply looking at how much energy has to be used and how CO2-intensive it is for the production or construction of power plants, the production of solar panels.


Dr Martin Schichtel: Correct!


Thomas Sinnwell: But then we have to consider how long something like that is used, how long until it is defective. Then it looks completely different. Then we could already look at the next point: Net energy balance.


Dr Martin Schichtel: Again, there are different terms. One term that is very, very clearly defined is net and gross generation of electricity from different producers. So PV or wind, for example, gross is more or less the same as net. With a coal-fired power plant it is not the same, because within the coal-fired power plant you also need electricity to operate the power plant in the first place. Of course, this depends on the gross generation until a certain net amount enters the grid. Of course, you can also add up the net balance to the production of the generation units themselves, to say that I have used so much energy relative to what the unit produces.


Thomas Sinnwell: Good! Then we could come to what I think is perhaps the most exciting value, the energy payback time. At least as I understand it, I think this is a very important parameter for comparing technologies.


Dr. Martin Schichtel: Today you can actually quantify that very, very well, energy payback time, I prefer the term energy amortisation time, because ultimately it hits the nail on the head. Ultimately, this means that when you produce a solar cell, you need energy to produce this solar cell. And the payback time is the time it takes for the solar cell to produce so much energy itself that it sets to zero the energy it took to make it. And then it's more or less an energetic gain in the future, so it's really only an energetic gain. Now this has nothing to do with finances, but is purely energetic. I said you can quantify it very well, but it's not quite as simple as it sounds. Solar cells are the best example. The question is, of course, what kind of solar cell. Is it a monocrystalline, is it a polycrystalline, is it a thin-film, they have different efficiencies in the system? Where is the installation? Is it located in northern Germany, in Finland, is it located in Spain? What angle does it have? These are all factors that have to be taken into account. So as a rule, you say, PV systems, for example, the energy payback is between one and six years, depending on the location and angle and so on and so forth. But it gets more and more exciting when the technologies produce more energy. So you have solar cells in the kilowatt range. If you now go into a wind turbine, you are already in the megawatt range. And there again the ratio is completely different. Many wind power plants have reached their energy payback within nine to 12 months, because they produce much more energy for one plant. This is somewhat perverted if you look in the direction of classic generation technologies. A coal-fired power plant, for example, which has 800 megawatts of generating capacity, makes an insane amount for the little bit of energy that was put into it, with an energy payback of two to three months. Gas and steam power plants are in a somewhat better position, they pay for themselves within a few days, energy-wise. That's totally crazy.


Thomas Sinnwell: But that also means that in the end, if I want to compare these technologies with each other, I have to combine indicators in order to be able to make meaningful statements?


Dr. Martin Schichtel: Yes.


Thomas Sinnwell: But before we get to that, perhaps the last parameter that we are missing is the CO2 avoidance costs. What is behind that?


Dr Martin Schichtel: CO2 avoidance costs are again a relatively complex issue. In principle, what does it cost me to save one tonne of CO2 from a reference technology, for example coal-fired power plants, by using a different technology or a different process? You can evaluate this financially, and thus also this cost aspect. Because if I want to replace a coal-fired power plant with, say, 800 megawatts, then I need 600 or 800 wind turbines. They have to be produced and that costs money. So I can calculate what the investment is compared to what I save on the other side. And what is the additional cost that I have to bear in order to eliminate this CO2? Then there are very, very different approaches, which in themselves don't sound so difficult. If you look at our energy mix and say that if I want to get rid of coal-fired power plants completely and change the energy mix, then I have CO2 avoidance costs of 30, 32 euros per tonne of CO2. That doesn't sound so bad. But if you now assess this for the entire energy, then ...


Thomas Sinnwell: And now comes the but.


Dr. Martin Schichtel: ... it adds up to a few billion to a few trillion. Then it gets exciting.


Thomas Sinnwell: Definitely! Then we now have the tools at hand to be able to compare these different areas of technology. Let's try to come up with a ranking like that. What I've learned, and you've already mentioned this, is that if you want to do this absolutely, you have to look very closely at the location, the framework conditions, in order to be able to do it at all. But I think that is only particularly relevant for the top field. Things then become differentiated, and I think it's also about where nuclear energy is to be found, how far ahead or in the top field or not quite so far ahead. But I also find it exciting to simply put things in relative order, what does it look like? Let's perhaps start at the top. What is simply the top field from the point of view of CO2 emissions?


Dr. Martin Schichtel: If you look at the current technologies, everything in the field of renewables is definitely among them. So you have wind, PV, quite classically, which are to be placed right at the top, also for the future.


Thomas Sinnwell: Then, if you move slowly downwards, towards the upper midfield, I would also see combined heat and power plants. I've always been a fan of that, I always thought it was a great story. And I have now been able to read that it can also come very close to this top group, depending on the type of construction.


Dr. Martin Schichtel: Yes, that's absolutely right. So especially if the CHPs are operated via renewable sources, i.e. combined heat and power plants, pellets, biomass plants and so on and so forth, it can be considered very, very high. So it's already very, very close to the top group.


Thomas Sinnwell: If we now go a little further down the middle, gas-fired power plants, does that fit?


Dr Martin Schichtel: Gas-fired power plants definitely do. Gas power compared to coal power definitely, because they also have lower, let's say, technology costs in the background and should bear them. That is also one of the strategies to get away from coal-fired power plants, to replace part of the coal-fired power plants with gas-fired power plants or gas engine plants for heat production, because they have these advantages.


Thomas Sinnwell: Then at the bottom end, and I think then at the very bottom, lignite power plants, hard coal a bit better?


Dr Martin Schichtel: Yes, hard coal a bit better, lignite at the bottom, but coal power, the classic conventional energy sources way at the bottom.


Thomas Sinnwell: That means that if you look at it that way now, the results are not so surprising.


Dr. Martin Schichtel: No, not really.


Thomas Sinnwell: One could have had the idea even without the indicators.


Dr. Martin Schichtel: One could have, if there weren't so many "buts": But it costs money, but I need space, but I need permission, but my coal-fired power plant normally runs for 50 years, why should I shut it down now? But nuclear power, you just mentioned it, is normally expected to run for 60 years. And if a nuclear power plant is to be taken off the grid after 20 years, ...


Thomas Sinnwell: ... then we are dealing with these political framework conditions, then the rules of the game are changed very quickly. And depending on which indicator I look at, the result is completely different.


Dr. Martin Schichtel: Exactly!


Thomas Sinnwell: What we hadn't talked about, but had discussed very intensively in the first round or in the last podcast, was storage technologies. Where are they now in this ranking?


Dr. Martin Schichtel: Well, as a person outside storage technologies I say right at the top, but actually they can be found across all levels because storage can actually support or improve any system. Even with coal-fired power plants you could tease out efficiency points through storage technologies. Even if a coal-fired power plant becomes only 1% more efficient, it still produces CO2, but pushes more energy that I need into the grid for our economy, for our private households. Even there, storage technologies can support old generation technologies. But the higher I get in this ranking, the more likely I am to need storage technologies. Because we have the classic, it always sounds so flippant to say, well, the sun shines when the sun shines, and the wind blows when the wind blows. But that's the way it is in our nature. This means that renewable energy sources, which is why they are also called fluctuating energies, are not constantly available 24/7. But in order to manage an energy supply, because you want to be able to switch on your TV at ten in the evening or turn on the radio or light, there has to be electricity. So I have to make sure that I buffer as much as possible in order to guarantee this security of supply. That's why storage technologies are right at the top.


Thomas Sinnwell: Now there are also very different storage technologies, but I found what you reported about your system very exciting. What about the energy production costs?


Dr. Martin Schichtel: That's very exciting, also because we are a young company and have a very, very different perspective than established companies. They are slowly getting around to saying that we have to do a lifecycle assessment for our product: So what does it cost me in terms of energy? What does it cost me in terms of my carbon footprint? What can I calculate later? What does it mean for recycling in the end? How do I have to recycle it and how can I recycle it? Can I recycle it at all? We have the advantage of growing up with a young technology and already taking these points into account today. For our storage system, for example, especially when I compare it with other thermal storage systems, we are, and I have to say this with pride, front runners. If I now take into account one megawatt hour of stored energy, we have a CO2 footprint for the creation of our facility of 180 kilograms.


Thomas Sinnwell: That's a huge number.


Dr. Martin Schichtel: The next best technology is just under 600 kilogrammes and then it goes up. So the worst we had works great, there's no question about it, you also have an insane amount of recycled material, these are storage tanks that are built out of steel, but devastating in terms of the CO2 footprint. So from that point of view we have positioned ourselves really well in the overall picture of sustainability, CO2 footprint, emissions, broad applicability of the technology.


Thomas Sinnwell: But these are actually considerations that have to be made in principle?


Dr. Martin Schichtel: Yes.


Thomas Sinnwell: Even now with the wind turbine. I mean, they don't live forever, and rotor blades don't last a lifetime either.


Dr Martin Schichtel: Exactly!


Thomas Sinnwell: That also raises the question: What happens to a wind turbine afterwards?


Dr Martin Schichtel: I think that's a super exciting topic and I'm surprised that this has never really been studied so broadly across many technologies, to say that this is a technology that will take you forward. But I also have to think about what happens at the end of life? How do I get sensible recycling technologies built? The current situation with wind turbines is that you can recycle the mast, which is made of steel. The base is usually concrete, which is more difficult to recycle. But both parts make up a large part of the total mass of the wind turbine. Therefore, if I were to draw up a mass balance, super recycling, but I have the rotor blades.


Thomas Sinnwell: And I think there are very different types and they have to be considered differently.


Dr. Martin Schichtel: Correct! You often have these glass fibre reinforced plastics that are used. If it is a pure glass fibre system, there are recycling possibilities, which I personally don't think are very charming, but at least there are some. They haven't been rolled out in a big way yet.


Thomas Sinnwell: Is that like shredding and incineration?


Dr Martin Schichtel: Shredding and burning. That's why, I'm not happy about it, but at least there is an approach. It makes sense somewhere, let's say, if you shred the stuff and put it into the cement industry, for example, which is one of our biggest CO2 emitters worldwide, it still has a benefit somewhere, because then I'm not burning natural gas or oil or anything else, but actually something that once produced electricity well and for a long time and avoided CO2. Okay, you can put a positive spin on it. If I put the whole thing into a pyrolysis plant to slowly dissolve the plastic, convert it into carbon and then sort out the silicate components again, I start to have question marks, because I'm putting a lot of energy into it to get certain basic materials out that are also naturally present. It's difficult. But if we simply look at what is happening and where we want to go, we will have more and more of this material. I mean, now in 2020, 2021, the first plants will be taken off the grid, which will be phased out of the EC, which, due to the regulations, may now no longer be renewed or the site will even have to be closed down. People are still trying to make do with a trick: I'll just sell the plant somewhere where there isn't anything like that yet, where renewables have to be built. But I'm just shifting the problem. It can't be the whole point.


Thomas Sinnwell: Locally and then, if necessary, temporally.


Dr. Martin Schichtel: Actually, someone who builds such a generation plant should also be responsible for recycling it, even if it has a second life.


Thomas Sinnwell: Now we have looked at many things and classified them, we have also looked at the ranking, the relative classification. There are two things we haven't looked at, hydrogen technology and e-fuels. How do you see these things being classified?


Dr. Martin Schichtel: Good question. For me, I put a question mark on it. Hydrogen technology, no question about it, will be a worldwide topic that will become established. Maybe not in all areas, as is expected today, but it will also drive forward many, many areas in the field of decarbonisation. There is no question about it. Hydrogen production is already relatively efficient. What happens after that is the big question mark. What do I do with the hydrogen? Personally ...


Thomas Sinnwell: You definitely need green electricity, ...


Dr. Martin Schichtel: Yes, there are the funniest colours in hydrogen technology. Green is clearly defined, then you have blue, you have grey, meanwhile there's even talk about purple or violet. It's funny, but of course, green hydrogen, assuming that we manage to produce enough electricity in the future to make green hydrogen, will be a big topic, especially in industry, I think. Electricity production is conditional, because you would have to convert entire grids, natural gas grids, to hydrogen. And to do that selectively or step by step, I think, is incredibly difficult. There will be some hurdles. Hydrogen in the field of transport technology, yes, I can imagine that. But there are also many discussions about what is feasible in the field of e-fuels. The first hydrogen aircrafts are now being tested, ships are being tested, trains are being tested.


Thomas Sinnwell: Whats your opinion on passenger cars, regarding hydrogen fuel?


Dr Martin Schichtel: I don't think it’s worth it. Why do I think so? Because when I look at the energy efficiencies, I produce "expensive" green electricity, convert it into hydrogen, have to bring it into a grid, bring it into a storage facility, and then burn it again in the car. If I don't go into a fuel cell now, the overall efficiency is relatively low. Then I'd rather take my 100 % renewable electricity and pump it into batteries and use 80 % of this electricity directly to get on the road. I think that makes more sense, especially for local transport. Of course, it's difficult to convert a locomotive or a ship or a large truck to batteries, because theoretically they would have to carry so much battery weight that they would only be able to carry a small charge in the end. I rather believe that hydrogen or e-fuels will prevail.


Thomas Sinnwell: And hydrogen then also in the direction of fuel cells?


Dr. Martin Schichtel: Hydrogen in the direction of fuel cells, I am very curious to see what will happen on the technology side. Because decades ago, when I was at the Research Institute, we were already doing research on fuel cells and optimisation. And that was almost 30 years ago. But apparently not much has happened.


Thomas Sinnwell: But I think maybe now we'll change the subject again, because I think we could talk about that for a whole podcast.


Dr. Martin Schichtel: We can do that again, yes.


Thomas Sinnwell: And there is also a lot of discussion. We have now talked about many more or less low-CO2 technologies and put them in relation to each other. And I found it quite exciting to hear that yesterday the EU agreed on a climate protection target for 2030, which, depending on the perspective from which you look at it, I consider to be quite ambitious. And 2030 is not that far away. Martin, what do you think should be done now, what should the energy mix look like? Which technologies should be pushed or where should regulations be softened? What has to happen in the end so that we have a chance of achieving this goal?


Dr Martin Schichtel: That is a very exciting goal, Thomas, which has been set again. Of course, we have to step on the gas to achieve this goal. You asked about the energy mix. The energy mix, the track has already been set anyway. This means that we have abolished nuclear power, we are now phasing out coal and we need alternative energy supplies. That means we have to massively expand renewables, wind and PV. This can be done on a large scale, of course wind is the only way to do it on a large scale, but PV, for example, everyone can do something at home to push things forward. There are also these small balcony PV systems, they are nice, they are manageable, anyone can have them. But with the energy mix itself, it's not even done yet. I have to do much, much more, the industry has to change a lot. They have to significantly reduce emissions, they have to change production processes, they have to become more efficient. But we, the people in private households also to think about it as well. Just take the standby button, for example, how much electricity is now being consumed just because some devices are on standby. So each and every one of us has to change.


Thomas Sinnwell: That's a whole catalogue of measures that have to be worked through. Ideally, this should also be synchronised. Or can it also run separately? Because last time we talked about the fact that I can prevent a lot with subsidy policy and regulation. And I don't think it's very clear yet what the leading technologies could be really.


Dr Martin Schichtel: Yes, that's true. So far the implementation plans are more or less based on old technologies, technologies of the last millennium, if you like. There are many new technologies coming into the market that can make their contribution. We have to open up to them, we have already talked about that. But in terms of regulation, there are of course things that need to be done. Because if I go in the direction of renewables, I need storage, whether it's lithium-ion batteries or other storage systems. I need to be able to absorb fluctuating energies, because the wind only blows when it blows and the sun only shines when it shines, but I would still like to have security in my energy supply. I would like to know if i can switch my television on in the evening or not? That has to be secured. And for that I have to ...


Thomas Sinnwell: And that calls for storage technology.


Dr. Martin Schichtel: That calls for storage technology, that cries out for the expansion of energy production itself. This combination is incredibly important. And with regard not only to the German energy supply, but to a European energy supply. We are increasingly building on a European grid. That means that Germany can draw a lot of electricity from outside. For example, every time Germany has been on the verge of a blackout - twice in the last decade, I think - neighbouring countries have fortunately stepped in and supplied electricity to create grid stability. That will increasingly be the question in the future, how to guarantee stability and security in supply.


Thomas Sinnwell: I think there is a clear expectation of supply security from our society, but from the industry as well. A blackout, which is not just a word that may cause a little fear, can be very, very serious. And we need answers to how we can regulate our grid, how we can control it, how it can remain stable.


Dr Martin Schichtel: Exactly! That will be a very, very complex task. Fortunately, we have a technology at hand that uses the IT that exists, where you can now set up grids, make partial energy shifts, to scale that up to the grid level. But this has to be much, much more widely available on the market in order to ensure implementation.


Thomas Sinnwell: You are referring to smart grids.


Dr Martin Schichtel: Exactly!


Thomas Sinnwell: What we had just mentioned very briefly here, the energy mix, you said that we have withdrawn from nuclear energy. And of course that's a topic that won't help us in the short term, but it's a topic we should talk about again.


Dr. Martin Schichtel: Yes. It's certainly an interesting story. Especially with the current technology situation.


Thomas Sinnwell: Let's tackle it and then approach the topic of nuclear power again. Especially after our last podcast, there were a few comments and questions about whether we were serious about that or not. It is a very emotionally charged topic. And I think it could help if we added some more information. We talked superficially about fourth-generation nuclear power plants. And I think we should dive into that a little bit. I would actually like to start by talking about fuel, which is basically a “funny term” for uranium. After all, uranium-238 is a heavy metal, a radioactive metal, which can be found in the earth's crust. When I dig for uranium, I think it is 99.2 % of uranium- 238….


Dr. Martin Schichtel: Yes, that's about right.


Thomas Sinnwell: And the rest, well no, it was 99.3 % ...


Dr Martin Schichtel: Point 3.


Thomas Sinnwell: ... and 0.7 was uranium-235 which radiates afterwards. Uranium-235, I ultimately need for the not so pleasant case of nuclear weapons construction, and I need it for nuclear fission. Ultimately, I can fission uranium-235 with slow neutrons and set a chain reaction in motion. That doesn't work with uranium-238.


Dr. Martin Schichtel: Correct! Exactly! In principle, you have already addressed both sides of the medals. Worst case: I build a weapon out of it. Best case: I produce energy with it. You have that with all technologies though. It doesn't matter how you look at it. It is an extremely emotionally charged topic, because of course, radiation is difficult: cancers, tumours and the death through this technology. It is incredibly difficult to imagine. So many scientists and engineers have thought about it in the last decades: How can I make this technology safer? How can I design this technology in such a way that in the end there is not so much radioactive waste left over, but actually a waste is produced that is manageable, that is easy to handle compared to what has been going on so far.


Thomas Sinnwell: After our podcast, I took a look at some of the topics and did some research. And there are a variety of concepts for fourth-generation nuclear power plants. There is a large EU research project, which has been successfully completed. What I find fascinating is that there are concepts that actually provide an answer to our nuclear waste problem.


Dr. Martin Schichtel: Absolutely. The modern Generation 4 concepts, as you mentioned, are all based on using already existing highly radioactive waste and further converting it, further dismantling it, reducing the radioactivity and generating electricity for it. That was one of the basic premises for setting up this programme, Reactor Variant 4: Sustainability, energy saving, efficiency, ...


Thomas Sinnwell: Safety.


Dr Martin Schichtel: ... and radioactive decay and safety, were very much in the foreground.


Thomas Sinnwell: What I have taken away from these new concepts, that are able to utilise nuclear waste energetically again, is that a different coolant is used, not cooling water, but liquid sodium.


Dr Martin Schichtel: Among other things. Yes.


Thomas Sinnwell: And that makes it possible that a) I have this cooling effect, but at the same time the neutrons are not slowed down so much, and thus they are able to split the uranium-238.


Dr. Martin Schichtel: Or rather, to form the other decomposition products, so that a fuel is produced from the fuel, which of course continues to produce radiation, because only through this process can I also produce heat in the end and produce electricity with this heat. But if I break down the radioactivity from one stage, one element, to the next one and produce a little bit of new fuel with each process. And that of course gives me concepts like ...


Thomas Sinnwell: So you get fast breeders.


Dr Martin Schichtel: Yes. I don't really find the keyword fast breeder reactors very useful, because it suggests something other than what it is. For me, a fast breeder reactor would mean that something happens very quickly at a high energy level and that can go very wrong. But it doesn't. It's more like its own bio system, its own ecosystem, which keeps itself alive.


Thomas Sinnwell: Exactly! Which is also super exciting, or when I do this, when I apply these concepts, I have the possibility of feeding transuranic elements into it. With the trans uranium elements, which is typically plutonium and takes 300,000 years to decay to the level that natural uranium has.


Dr. Martin Schichtel: Correct!


Thomas Sinnwell: Those are gigantic periods of time.


Dr. Martin Schichtel: Absolutely!


Thomas Sinnwell: If I now introduce these transuranic elements into such reactors, I will be able to produce fission products, these fast neutrons and now it will take 300 years to decay to the level that natural uranium has. That's a factor of 1000, which is a fantastic thing to begin with.


Dr. Martin Schichtel: Huge leaps have been made in technology, also to build such systems in such a way, that they are economical in the end. Because at the end of the day, it is not environmental protection that counts, it is unfortunately still money. We won't be able to get that out of our world. That was a very, very important point. And through these stages, through this reduction, until I finally reach this basic stage, I have long operating times for these power plants, small power plants, large power plants, depending on the extent to which they are built. And if I imagine that a power plant can be operated for 100 years via such mining mechanisms, ...


Thomas Sinnwell: That's what I've read now, at TerraPower in America.


Dr Martin Schichtel: Yes. For example.


Thomas Sinnwell: They go up to 150 years ...


Dr. Martin Schichtel: Exactly!


Thomas Sinnwell: ... assuming that. And those are gigantic periods of time in which I really have low-CO2 electricity production. If I understand that correctly, hydrogen is still produced there. I have process heat.


Dr. Martin Schichtel: Exactly!


Thomas Sinnwell: And recycle my nuclear waste and make it much more manageable. Maybe that is how I would put it.


Dr. Martin Schichtel: That is an incredibly important criterion, how do I get away from this highly radioactive waste, away from this classic final storage issue and into less radioactive material. This is done very, very well by these technologies. However, the long operating times - you mentioned TerraPower - give me the opportunity to build new production technologies outside of nuclear power, outside of wind power perhaps. Who knows what the future will bring? Nuclear fusion, for example, is a topic that's being researched and it's eating up an enormous amount of energy at the moment, but if I could ultimately produce a micro sun and control it as well, let's leave it open whether that's possible or not, then that's of course a completely new starting point. But I buy myself time with a technology that does not emit any greenhouse gases during operation and thus contributes to climate protection in a certain sense.


Thomas Sinnwell: And solves the waste problem. What I find very exciting is the safety concept. This is based on the fact that I derive the molten sodium, then I basically have a fire issue, but it is controllable technologically. It’s not a must, it could happen, but it would be controllable. But otherwise the process comes to a standstill. Scenarios like the ones we had in Fukushima or Chernobyl are not possible for the time being. That was a design goal as well: safety.


Dr Martin Schichtel: Correct! As far as I understand the technology, you obviously no longer have the classic burnout and overreaction in modern reactors. You mentioned sodium, there are lead-bismuth alloy alternatives that are used. You have helium with similar effects or pressurised water reactors. Of course, one can discuss this again, steam at 200 bar or water under 200 bar pressure and temperature perhaps, but it’s not that simple. I'd rather have a water pipe that blows up in my face and perhaps causes local damage than a superhazard that releases radioactivity into the environment. These are very, very different standards than 50 years ago.


Thomas Sinnwell: I think we now have managed to provide information that people are perhaps more open to considering this very emotional topic. I think so much has happened in technological development. The image that people have in their heads, Chernobyl for example, is perhaps no longer the measure of all things, that can be used for evaluation. In this respect, I think we have now been able to give a very good general overview. Regarding another exiting topic Martin: What would you like to give to the Fridays for Future movement?


Dr Martin Schichtel: Hm! Fridays for Future is a great movement. I think it's great from several points of view. I think it's great that a generation is developing an awareness for the environment, for its own future, is thinking about it at a very, very early stage and is actually taking to the streets to show that we are here, you have to listen to us. That's really great. It's an incredibly strong step. Of course, there's always room for improvement. But what I would like to give them for the future is that they keep up their drive and not just do the whole thing for six months, one year, but maybe for five or ten years, until they themselves enter the profession. Because then they will have the leverage to make real changes in the economy, to make real changes in politics. Please don't stop! But go through it as a generation to really bring about change.


Thomas Sinnwell: I think that is a great closing statement. I had a lot of fun talking to you about these issues. Thank you very much!


Dr. Martin Schichtel: Great! I really enjoyed being here and it is fun to talk about all these topics. You mentioned one point, which I would like to pick out again. You have to try to judge nuclear power, but also all other technologies, objectively. I can only recommend a book called "Factfulness". It's a must-read, simply to create a relationship between what you think you know and how it is, in order to be able to classify it correctly.


Thomas Sinnwell: Great closing statement! Thank you very much!


Dr. Martin Schichtel: You're welcome, Thomas! Thank you very much!


So, that's it from us again. We hope we were able to broaden your technical horizons and entertain you a bit. As always, we have further links for you in our show notes and if you want more, we would be happy if you subscribed to us. We will be able to find us on YouTube starting next week. Here you will find even more interesting content about technology, but also topics beyond the horizon with exciting guests and more. Just click subscribe and follow us on YouTube.

The next episode will start on 3 June, as always the first Thursday of the month. We will be talking to a representative of one of the largest IT system houses in Germany about the most important IT trends and challenges for companies in the coming years. It's worth listening to - we look forward to seeing you again!


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