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The Power of a Uranium Pellet

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Uranium pellet energy compared to fossil fuels

The Energy Efficiency of a Uranium Pellet

Nuclear energy’s incredible efficiency and powerful nature comes from uranium’s high energy density.

It is the most energy dense and efficient fuel source we have, with just ten uranium pellets able to power the average household for an entire year.

Using research from the U.S. Department of Energy, this graphic puts in perspective the efficiency of a single uranium pellet in comparison to fossil fuels.

Uranium’s Energy Density vs. Fossil Fuels

Uranium’s energy efficiency comes from it’s highly dense atomic and material nature, which is split apart when nuclear fission occurs.

It is the second-heaviest metal in terms of relative atomic mass, and is also one of the densest at around 19 g/cm3. For context, a gallon of milk weighs around 8 lbs, while a same-sized container of uranium would weigh around 150 lbs.

In the process of nuclear fission, the U-235 isotope of uranium is hit by a moving neutron and splits in two. This splitting of the atom produces heat energy and releases more neutrons that hit other U-235 atoms, causing a chain reaction of nuclear fission.

The energy generated by the fission of a single uranium pellet is equivalent to:

  • 1 ton of coal or
  • 120 gallons of crude oil or
  • 17,000 ft3 of natural gas

With about 17 million British Thermal Units (BTU) worth of energy in a uranium pellet, it’s no wonder that many are now looking at nuclear energy as a key piece to the clean energy puzzle.

Not Just Better than Fossil Fuels

Nuclear power isn’t just an improvement over fossil fuels, it also beats out renewable energy sources in a few other key areas. Along with low lifecycle emissions, nuclear power also has a low land footprint and the highest reliability compared to other sustainable energy sources.

1. CO2 Lifecycle Emissions

As a non-fossil fuel source of energy, nuclear power has one of the lowest average life cycle CO2 emissions among energy technologies. Since 1970, nuclear power plants have reduced over 60 gigatonnes of CO2 emissions, and have lower average life cycle emissions compared to solar panels, geothermal energy, and hydropower.

2. Land Footprint

While reducing carbon emissions is great, renewable energy sources are also judged on their land footprint. Nuclear power has one of the lowest land footprints per 1,000 megawatts of electricity a year at 1.3 square miles. In comparison, for the same amount of energy solar power requires ~75x more surface area, and wind power requires ~360x more surface area.

3. Power Generation Uptime

The power generation uptime of energy sources is another important metric to measure their reliability and efficiency. Nuclear power plants have the best uptime of all energy sources, running at maximum capacity 92.5% of the year. In comparison, the two next best energy sources in terms of reliability are geothermal energy (74.3%) and natural gas (56.6%).

Nuclear Energy’s Water Usage and Waste Disposal

Although nuclear energy is incredibly efficient and much cleaner than fossil fuels, it still isn’t quite a perfect energy solution.

Nuclear power plants rely on large amounts of water especially for their cooling operations, which is why many are located near bodies of water. When compared with other energy sources, many estimates find that nuclear power plants typically consume the most water when using cooling towers.

Energy sourceGallons of water per megawatt-hour of electricity produced
Nuclear1,101 gal
Coal1,005 gal
Concentrated solar906 gal
Biomass878 gal
Natural gas 255 gal
Geothermal15 gal

Source: Median figures of Macknick et al/Environmental Research Letters

Along with their water consumption, nuclear power plants also produce nuclear waste which must safely removed and stored in a permanent disposal site.

While countries like France, Germany, and Japan recycle the majority of their spent fuel, the U.S. currently treats it as waste. This results in the spent uranium fuel needing to be cooled for 2-5 years, with the most common cooling method requiring even more water consumption.

Uranium’s Future as the World’s Energy Fuel

While uranium offers an incredible amount of energy in a tiny package, nuclear power is still working to shake off the shadows of past incidents like Fukushima, Three Mile Island, and Chernobyl. Despite this, nuclear still is an incredibly safe energy source compared to fossil fuels, and safety improvements continue to be invested in and researched today.

Nuclear energy is also receiving a fiscal boost in the United States, with the recent infrastructure bill passed by the senate providing funding for two commercial-scale demonstration projects. Just as important, the bill also mentions that when determining whether to certify a reactor, priority will be given to reactors that use uranium that is produced and enriched domestically.

As the world continues working to reduce carbon emissions, people are starting to recognize that uranium’s energy efficiency could be vital in weaning the world off of fossil fuel dependence.

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Energy Shift

Visualizing Global Energy Production in 2023

Fossil fuels accounted for 81% of the energy mix.

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Pie chart showing energy production by source in 2023.

Visualizing Global Energy Production in 2023

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Global primary energy consumption reached a new record of 620 exajoules (EJ) for the second consecutive year in 2023, up from 607 exajoules in 2022.

This graphic shows the sources of energy used globally in 2023, measured in exajoules. Data is from the 2024 Statistical Review of World Energy by the Energy Institute, released in June 2024.

Fossil Fuels Accounted for 81% of the Energy Mix

Despite efforts to decarbonize the economy, fossil fuels still accounted for over 80% of the global energy mix in 2023.

Oil was responsible for 32% of the energy consumed around the world, followed by coal (26%) and then natural gas (23%).

Energy SourceConsumption in exajoulePercentage (%)Fossil Fuel
Oil19632%Yes
Coal16426%Yes
Natural Gas14423%Yes
Hydro-electric406%No
Nuclear Energy254%No
Other Renewables518%No
Total620100%

The Asia-Pacific region was responsible for nearly 80% of global coal output, with significant contributions from Australia, China, India, and Indonesia.

Global coal consumption also continued to rise, exceeding 164 EJ for the first time ever.

China remains the largest consumer of coal, accounting for 56% of the world’s total consumption. However, in 2023, India’s coal consumption exceeded the combined total of Europe and North America for the first time.

Oil consumption, in particular, rebounded strongly last year compared to 2022, largely due to China relaxing its zero-COVID lockdown policies.

Renewables’ share of total primary energy consumption reached 14.6%, an increase of 0.4% over the previous year. Together with nuclear, they represented roughly 19% of total primary energy consumption.

Renewables like solar and wind accounted for 8% of the energy generated in 2023, followed by hydroelectric (6%) and nuclear (4%).

Editor’s Note: The graphic was updated on July 16, 2024, to correct an error in the fossil fuel values.

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Energy Shift

Visualized: The Growth of Clean Energy Stocks

Visual Capitalist partnered with EnergyX to analyze five major clean energy stocks and explore the factors driving this growth.

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This line chart shows the growth of clean energy stocks and hints at their cumulative five-year returns.

The Growth of Clean Energy Stocks

Over the last few years, energy investment trends have shifted from fossil fuels to renewable and sustainable energy sources. Long-term energy investors now see significant returns from clean energy stocks, especially compared to those invested in fossil fuels alone.

For this graphic, Visual Capitalist has collaborated with EnergyX to examine the rise of clean energy stocks and gain a deeper understanding of the factors driving this growth.

Sustainable Energy Stock Performance

In 2023, the IEA reported that 62% of all energy investment went toward sustainable sources. As the world embraces sustainable energy and technologies like EVs, it’s no surprise that clean energy companies provide solid returns for their investors over long periods.

Taking the top-five clean energy stocks by market cap (as of April 2024) and charting their five-year cumulative returns, it is clear that investments in clean energy are growing:

CompanyPrice: 01/04/2019Price: 12/29/20245-Year-Return %
First Solar, Inc.$46.32$172.28272%
Enphase Energy, Inc.$5.08$132.142,501%
Consolidated Edison, Inc.$76.55$90.9719%
NextEra Energy, Inc.$43.13$60.7441%
Brookfield Renewable Partners$14.78$26.2878%
promotional graphic with a button and wheel that promotes the EnergyX investment site

But how does this compare to the performance of fossil fuel stocks?

When comparing the performance of the S&P Global Oil Index and the S&P Clean Energy Index between 2019 and 2023, we see that the former returned 15%, whereas the latter returned an impressive 41%. This trend demonstrates the potential for clean energy stocks to yield significant returns on an industry level, sparking optimism and excitement for potential investors.

A Shift In Returns

With global investment trends moving away from traditional, non-sustainable sources, the companies that could shape the energy transition provide investors with alternative opportunities and avenues for growth.

One such company is EnergyX. The lithium technology company has patented a groundbreaking technology that can improve lithium extraction rates by an incredible 300%, and its stock price has grown tenfold since its first offering in 2021.

promotional graphic that promotes the EnergyX investment site
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