DOE sees nuclear as key to green hydrogen
Metal Tech News – November 16, 2022
Last updated 11/15/2022 at 3:58pm
Nuclear-powered clean hydrogen production has the potential to be a gamechanger.
As one of the most viable options to stabilize the energy demands of the future with clean renewable sources, the Department of Energy has been exploring the possibility for the power sector to leverage its nuclear facilities to generate another source of sustainable fuel, creating a two-for-one opportunity that may alleviate climate concerns.
Hydrogen has the vast potential to do just that. Able to be used across multiple industries to store and deliver practical energy to grids, drive industrial processes, or create energy-dense fuels needed for long-haul trucks, airplanes, or even the greatest emitters, ocean liners.
However, roughly 95% of the hydrogen currently produced in the United States comes from natural gas – resulting in the very thing it is trying to prevent, carbon emissions.
Hence, the Department of Energy has invested billions to help lower the cost and scale up the production of clean hydrogen by utilizing the nation's preexisting energy assets, including nuclear power plants.
Clean hydrogen production
Since its inception, researchers have attempted to discover more efficient and cost-effective methods to generate clean hydrogen fuel. With most of the hydrogen currently being produced in the U.S. through the steam-methane reforming process – a process where methane reacts with high-temperature steam to produce carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen – the Department of Energy hopes that by utilizing existing nuclear infrastructure, an overabundance of this clean fuel can be produced.
One of the ways that hydrogen can be produced without emissions is through low- and high-temperature electrolysis by splitting water into pure hydrogen and oxygen. However, this in and of itself requires a great deal of energy.
So, the government organization has turned to something that produces a ton of heat and energy, nuclear reactors. DOE estimates that a single 1,000-megawatt reactor could produce up to 150,000 tons of hydrogen each year.
Considered the smallest nuclear power plant in the U.S., the R. E. Ginna Nuclear Power plant in New York operates upwards of 580 megawatts electrical (MWe), while that is little more than half of DOE's production estimates, that is just the nation's smallest.
Currently, there are about 93 reactors across 28 states, and while that number has declined in recent years, a new surge of demand could be made if a valuable clean byproduct such as hydrogen can be produced.
You can read about the possible surge in future nuclear plants at Nuclear gets historical tax incentives in the September 14, 2022, edition of Metal Tech News.
If done properly, beyond just a simple fuel, hydrogen can also help with oil refining, steel production, powering heavy equipment, and the production of carbon-neutral synthetic fuels. The clean production of hydrogen would be especially beneficial for hydrogen-based fertilizers, which provided nourishment for approximately 45% of the world's food supply in 2019.
DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy and the Office of Nuclear Energy has already begun collaborating with utilities to support four hydrogen demonstration projects at nuclear power plants.
At the Nine Mile Point Nuclear Power Station in Oswego, New York, the government organization is supporting the construction and installation of a low-temperature electrolysis system, with the hopes of making it the first nuclear-powered clean hydrogen facility in the U.S.
With two nuclear reactors that operate at 644 MWe and 1,375 MWe, respectively, the latter reactor could produce an estimated 150,000 tons of hydrogen fuel per year, which is about one-tenth the amount the United States consumes annually.
Likewise, the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station in Oak Harbor, Ohio currently houses a single 894 MW that is expected to produce clean hydrogen by 2023.
Similar to Nine Mile, DOE aims for a low-temperature electrolysis system, however, the goal of this plant is to prove the technical feasibility and economic benefits of clean hydrogen production. DOE says hydrogen produced at the Ohio reactor could be sold for local manufacturing and transportation services, including fuel for a local bus fleet.
The third project is the Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant in Red Wing, Minnesota, where DOE has been working with Bloom Energy and Xcel Energy to create a first-of-a-kind project to demonstrate high-temperature electrolysis.
With two nuclear reactors at roughly 522 MWe and 519 MWe, the combined output would fall within the projected hydrogen production estimate. The data acquired from this demonstration plant will be used to help scale up the process. Hydrogen production is expected to begin in early 2024.
The fourth and largest of the nuclear-powered hydrogen projects being supported by DOE is at the Palo Verde Generating Station in Tonopah, Arizona.
Considered the largest nuclear power plant in the U.S., Palo Verde houses three massive reactors at a whopping 1,311, 1,314, and 1,312 MWe.
The hydrogen produced here is slated to be used to generate electricity during times of high demand or to make chemicals and other fuels. With the project aimed to begin production by 2024, this plant alone could cover almost half of the hydrogen demand of the entire United States if the technology comes to full fruition.
These four projects, out of the 93 reactors in the U.S, could supply 80% of America's current 10-million-metric-ton-per-year hydrogen demand, and done so in a manner that is clean and emission-free.
Hydrogen future is bright
With the plans to develop and mature clean hydrogen production technology, including the funding of six to ten regional clean hydrogen hubs across the U.S. through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, this is a colossal step in the right direction for climate change.
Additional funding through the Inflation Reduction Act also includes support for clean hydrogen production via tax credits that will award up to $3/kilogram for low-carbon hydrogen.
Considering all this work supports DOE's Hydrogen Shot goal of reducing the cost of clean hydrogen by nearly 80%, this could very well put hydrogen fuel at roughly $1 per kg in a single decade.
Reaching this cost reduction goal would not only open new markets for hydrogen, but it would also begin an era of unprecedented abundance of energy that could finally see the world move from petroleum-based power.
Additionally, this new fuel sector could create new clean energy jobs, would most assuredly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and would ultimately make America a more competitive actor in the global clean energy market.