Zeno demonstrates its first Sr-90 radioisotope heat source

October 31, 2023, 12:00PMNuclear News
Fabricated Z1 heat source in transfer port. (Photo: Zeno Power)

Zeno Power, a developer of commercial radioisotope power systems (RPSs), announced on October 26 that it has completed the design, fabrication, and testing of its Z1 strontium-90 heat source. According to Zeno, they have tested the first commercially developed radioisotope heat source and reached a key milestone for Zeno to begin delivering RPSs to customers in 2025.

Putting it to the test: Testing of the heat source, performed at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, confirmed that Zeno's patented technology provided increased specific power (watts-thermal per kilogram) compared to historic Sr-90 heat sources, according to Zeno, and verified that Zeno’s fabrication process can be demonstrated in a hot cell environment using radiological material.

The work at PNNL involved radioactive and nonradioactive activities, including chemical processing and fuel fabrication, materials handling, and heat source characterization. The testing performed during heat source characterization provided benchmarking data to support the development of future Zeno heat sources.

In use: Radioisotope heat sources provide a steady supply of thermal energy that can be converted to electricity in an RPS (also commonly called a radioisotope thermoelectric generator, or RTG). Using strontium for RPSs is advantageous because of the element’s relative abundance, but historical Sr-90 RPSs have been heavy, constraining their use to terrestrial applications, according to Zeno. Zeno’s work to increase the specific power that can be derived from an Sr-90 heat source is aimed at “enabling broad use of its RPSs in space and terrestrially.” The company anticipates that its RPSs could provide reliable power in off-grid environments—from the surface of the moon to the seabed.

“The completion of the Z1 demonstration is a historic moment that marks the beginning of the commercial RPS era,” said Lindsey Boles, Zeno vice president of engineering.

Marking milestones: Zeno recently commemorated the demonstration milestone in Tri-Cities, Wash., with a gathering of local community leaders and officials representing state and federal government, the U.S. Space Force, the U.S. Navy, NASA, and several other customers and stakeholders.

“By converting legacy Sr-90 into a long-lasting source of clean energy, Zeno has the potential to play a major role in the cleanup to clean energy vision here in the Tri-Cities. At TRIDEC, we’re proud to support Zeno’s efforts that we believe will benefit our local communities while supporting national security goals and the broader clean energy transition,” said David Reeploeg, vice president for federal programs at the Tri-Cities Development Council in Kennewick, Wash.

To date, Zeno has received over $40 million in government contracts and reports that it is on track to commercialize its technology by 2025 in support of commercial, national security, and science missions.

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