By Cameron Chai
Ibrahim Khamis, Ph.D., a member of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, Austria, has explained the possibility of using current nuclear power facilities as heat sources for efficient and cost-effective production of hydrogen.
Khamis noted that the nuclear power plants are suitable for hydrogen production, as they already generate the heat to convert water into steam and produce the electricity to break down the steam into oxygen and hydrogen. According to him, the production of hydrogen using nuclear power can minimize the dependence on coal for electricity generation and the use of gasoline for fueling vehicles. This could have a positive impact on global warming because when hydrogen is burned, it results in water vapour and eliminates carbon dioxide emission. Thus, a considerable amount of pollution can be reduced through hydrogen production.
IAEA and global researchers and economists are working on ways to exploit the existing 435 nuclear power reactors that are operational worldwide as well as upcoming nuclear power reactors for hydrogen production.
Currently, a large amount of hydrogen production is derived from coal or natural gas, which results in greenhouse gas emissions. Electrolysis is another approach used for hydrogen production, however only a small amount is produced using the process. This process becomes highly economical and efficient when the water is first heated to generate steam and then the electric current is passed into the steam to split water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen.
The existing nuclear power facilities use a low-temperature electrolysis process, whereas future plants will utilize a highly efficient high-temperature electrolysis process or will be joined to thermochemical processes that are currently under R&D phase.
Khamis has also demonstrated the use of Hydrogen Economic Evaluation Programme (HEEP) software from IAEA to assess the economical and technical feasibility of hydrogen production under various conditions.
On March 25, 2012, a press conference on this subject was conducted in the ACS Press Center in the San Diego Convention Center.