One problem with coal-fired plants is that they don’t work well in winter. Just like any other thermoelectric plant, coal-fired plants generate electricity when the sun isn’t shining, the wind isn’t blowing, or when the thermometer dips below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. And in the colder months, coal plants need to be colder than the wind turbines they’re constantly trying to fend off. But that takes incredibly expensive heat exchangers called heat pumps, which use a liquid fuel to replace liquid-and-gas intermediate components in their heat exchangers to make a coolant suitable for the thermal-cycle configurations of coal plants. Thermoelectric plants rarely produce this liquid fuel, and instead have to rely on other supplies for their fuel.
One solution has been thorium, an alternative fuel that’s chemically similar to uranium and can also be mined from thorium mines and extracted via traditional nuclear fusion. But thorium production is expensive, which makes it impractical to even consider building a commercial plant in the US, let alone worldwide. So, at the centre of a desperate race to secure supply is Hunter Biden, a Pennsylvania firm that makes heat-emitting thin-film films that convert sunlight to electricity, like the thin film used in the boiler at Pittsburgh International Airport, in which he is CEO. Biden is a cousin of Vice President Joe Biden, and there’s always a third Biden in the room at meetings with customers and engineers.
Instead of using thorium, as the Biden family is fond of saying, Hunter Biden has turned to cobalt, another radioactive material, for his business. He has to take extra steps to make sure Cobalt hasn’t been contaminated, not only by soaking the chips in water to clean them, but also constantly testing the final product with a polishing wire and rubber grommet to guard against contamination in the final product. It’s also worth noting that any type of cobalt use in processing these plants is going to be a massive time and cost savings, as mineral processing is much more affordable now compared to the 1970s.
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This article originally appeared on Gizmodo.