Zeno wins $7.5M contract for underwater nuclear power

Zeno Power says it’s been awarded a $7.5 million contract from the Department of Defense to build and demonstrate a radioisotope power system that can provide distributed power on the seabed.

The program, funded through the Pentagon’s Operational Energy Innovation Office and the Office of Naval Research, calls for the demonstration to take place by 2025.

Zeno maintains offices in Seattle as well as Washington, D.C., and one of its partners in the program is Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture, which is headquartered in Kent, Wash.

The objective of the program — known as Distributed Energy Provided Throughout the Seas, or DEPTHS — is to develop decentralized nodes for energy generation and distribution on the seabed. Such a system could open the way for long-endurance seafloor sensor systems and charging stations for autonomous undersea vehicles.


Zeno Power tests a new type of nuclear heat source

Zeno Power says it has successfully completed its first demonstration of a new type of radioisotope heat source that could be used to generate off-grid power in settings ranging from the bottom of the ocean to the surface of the moon.

The demonstration — performed at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash. — took advantage of the energy provided by the radioactive decay of strontium-90. Zeno said its tests confirmed that the company’s technology can increase the specific power of its heat source compared with previously available strontium-90 heat sources.

Zeno uses radioisotope heat sources as the building blocks for its power-generating systems, which are designed to convert constant thermal energy into electricity. Strontium-90, which is typically created as a byproduct of nuclear fission, is an abundant fuel for such systems — but existing strontium-based power systems tend to be bulky. Zeno’s design could generate more power with less bulk, opening the way for a wider range of applications.

The work at PNNL involved radioactive and non-radioactive activities, including chemical processing and fuel fabrication, materials handling and heat source characterization. The test data will support further development of heat sources.