Hydrogen is key to reaching net zero emissions by 2050, but current production methods are costly or emit significant emissions. The emergence of pink hydrogen as an emission-free and cost-effective solution presents a promising future for the hydrogen industry.
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This article will overview pink hydrogen, its production process, recent developments, and prospects as a sustainable fossil-fuel alternative.
Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, making up around 75% of its mass. It has a high energy density, with 2.2 pounds of hydrogen gas containing a similar amount of energy as 1 gallon of gasoline. This stored energy can be harnessed through direct combustion or fuel cells.
However, hydrogen predominantly exists in compound form (water and organic compounds) and needs to be extracted before it can be used as a fuel.
Current Hydrogen Production Methods and Their Challenges
The two most popular hydrogen production methods are water electrolysis and steam-methane reforming.
In steam-methane reforming, hydrogen molecules are separated from natural gas using high-temperature steam. On the other hand, water electrolysis involves breaking down water through electric current to produce hydrogen, making it a non-fossil fuel-based production method.
The predominant method of industrial hydrogen production is steam methane reforming, which is associated with significant emissions and is commonly referred to as "grey hydrogen."
Carbon capture can be applied to produce low-carbon blue hydrogen, but challenges remain in large-scale emissions sequestration.
On the other hand, green hydrogen is produced through electrolysis using renewable energy, as it does not generate emissions.
Policymakers and climate advocates recognize green hydrogen as a vital solution in shifting away from fossil fuels and achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
However, the current challenge lies in the high cost of green hydrogen production, which accounted for less than 1% of global hydrogen production in 2021, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reported.
What Is Pink Hydrogen, and What Are Its Possible Applications?
Pink hydrogen is a type of hydrogen generated through water electrolysis powered by nuclear energy, which is considered green (environmentally friendly) due to its lack of CO2 emissions during production.
People like to describe hydrogen in all different colors, but for us, hydrogen from the production of nuclear is as green hydrogen as you’re going to get. We view hydrogen from nuclear as green hydrogen.
James Scongack, Executive Vice President, Operational Services & Chief Development Officer, Bruce Power.
Pink hydrogen is a promising replacement for fossil fuels in the cement industry, steel industry, aviation, and heavy transportation, as it can be used as a feedstock and energy source with no greenhouse gas emissions.
Hydrogen is essential for processing crude oil and producing transport fuels in the petroleum refining industry. Hydrogen fuel cells can generate electricity by reacting hydrogen with oxygen, producing only water and heat as byproducts.
Is Pink Hydrogen Truly Sustainable?
Nuclear power offers significant advantages for pink hydrogen production, including reducing production costs and emissions, making it a sustainable and more cost-effective alternative to conventional methods.
According to a UK Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association paper, a 3 GW nuclear plant can produce enough pink hydrogen to decarbonize heating for 1 million homes or power 40,000 hydrogen buses.
While some may argue that nuclear energy is not sustainable due to rare radioactive elements, it is worth noting that only a minute amount of these elements is used in nuclear reactors. In addition, nuclear technology and waste management advances have made nuclear energy safer and more sustainable.
Recent Developments in Commercializing Pink Hydrogen
World’s first commercial agreement for nuclear-powered pink hydrogen
Swedish power company OKG has signed a commercial deal to sell pink hydrogen to industrial gas company Linde Gas, marking the first-ever commercial agreement for nuclear-derived hydrogen.
OKG has been producing hydrogen from the electrolyzers since 1992 for reactor coolant.
With the closure of Oskarshamn units 1 and 2, OKG has excess hydrogen capacity and is modernizing its hydrogen plant to expand operations.
Currently producing 12 kg of pink hydrogen daily, OKG plans to sell excess hydrogen to Linde, with the initial volumes sold being small. However, the companies are optimistic about the potential to expand the business, given the growing demand for hydrogen.
Hydrogen Micro Hub Project
Hyundai Engineering has signed an MoU with US-based Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC) and SK Ecoplant to collaborate on developing a cost-effective pink hydrogen production system called Hydrogen Micro Hub.
The project will involve joint research over five years, with Hyundai responsible for engineering, procurement, and construction, while SK Ecoplant will provide Bloom Energy's solid oxide electrolysis cell technology.
USNC will contribute a microreactor using a high-temperature, gas-cooled design. The hub will produce and distribute pink hydrogen locally, providing a cost-effective solution for its production, distribution, and use.
The alliance is expected to boost the global renewable energy market.
US Nuclear Power Plants Gearing Up for Clean Hydrogen Production
Four nuclear power plants in the United States are preparing to produce clean hydrogen through low- and high-temperature electrolysis systems, marking a significant step in the country's move towards decarbonization.
Constellation Energy Group and the US Department of Energy have announced the successful launch of the US's first pink hydrogen generation system at the Nine Mile Point Nuclear Plant in central New York.
The hydrogen system produces 560 kilograms daily with an hourly 1.25-MW draw on the 1907-MW output of Nine Mile's two reactors. In addition, Constellation has plans to develop commercial hydrogen production, which it hopes to begin in 2026.
Energy Harbor is demonstrating a low-temperature electrolysis system at the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station in Ohio to demonstrate the viability of clean hydrogen production for local manufacturing and transportation.
Meanwhile, Bloom Energy and Xcel Energy have collaborated to produce pink hydrogen using high-temperature electrolysis on the Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant in Minnesota by early 2024 to achieve a net-zero future through affordable and accessible clean energy.
The Palo Verde Generating Station in Arizona is negotiating an award for low-temperature electrolysis to produce hydrogen for electricity generation and other fuels.
Pink Hydrogen: A Promising Future as a Cost-Effective and Sustainable Alternative to Fossil Fuels
The French Bank Lazard estimates that pink hydrogen production would be a cheaper fossil fuel alternative than green hydrogen due to subsidies and higher capacity factors.
For instance, a 100 MW pink hydrogen plant can produce 63% more hydrogen than a green hydrogen plant, which could significantly reduce the cost of hydrogen production and increase the competitiveness of hydrogen fuel cells in various industries. However, the development of pink hydrogen projects may face challenges such as public perception of nuclear energy and high initial capital costs.
The clean hydrogen economy holds promise for a net-zero environment, but it is still in its early stages and requires significant changes to become a viable energy source.
However, there is growing anticipation that nuclear-enabled hydrogen projects will gain momentum as governments strive to enhance their nuclear energy capacity for a green transition, resulting in pink hydrogen emerging as a more efficient, cost-effective, and sustainable alternative to fossil fuels.
Continue reading: The Use of Clean Hydrogen as an Industrial Feedstock
References and Further Reading
Bradstock, F. (2023) The Future is Bright for Pink Hydrogen [Online]. Available at: https://oilprice.com/Alternative-Energy/Nuclear-Power/The-Future-Is-Bright-For-Pink-Hydrogen.html
Lazard. (2023) LCOE: Lazard's Levelized Cost of Energy [Online]. Lazard. Available at: https://www.lazard.com/media/5amjxc3g/lazards-lcoeplus-april-2023.pdf
Day, P. (2022) Bruce Power to Study 'Pink' Hydrogen from Curtailed Nuclear Power. [Online]. Reuters Events. Available at: https://www.reutersevents.com/nuclear/bruce-power-study-pink-hydrogen-curtailed-nuclear-power
Plug. (2022) Hydrogen Basics: Fuel of the Future Explained [Online]. Hydrogen Central. Available at: https://hydrogen-central.com/plug-hydrogen-basics-fuel-future-explained/
UK HFCA. (2022) The Role for Nuclear-Enabled Hydrogen in Delivering Net Zero [Online]. Available at: https://ukhea.co.uk/policy-shaping/publication-title-4/
Adams, P & Snyder, D. (2023) Constellation Starts Production at Nation's First One Megawatt Demonstration Scale Nuclear-Powered Clean Hydrogen Facility [Online]. Constellation Energy Corporation. Available at: https://www.constellationenergy.com/newsroom/2023/Constellation-Starts-Production-at-Nations-First-One-Megawatt-Demonstration-Scale-Nuclear-Powered-Clean-Hydrogen-Facility.html
Akron. (2021) Energy Harbor helps Advance Zero-Carbon Hydrogen Production [Online]. Energy Harbor. Available at: https://energyharbor.com/en/about/news-and-information/energy-harbor-and-the-department-of-energy-advance-zero-carbon-hydrogen-production-pilot-at-davis-besse-power-station
Collins, L. (2022) World First for Nuclear-Powered Pink Hydrogen as Commercial Deal Signed in Sweden [Online]. Recharge News. Available at: https://www.rechargenews.com/energy-transition/world-first-for-nuclear-powered-pink-hydrogen-as-commercial-deal-signed-in-sweden/2-1-1155202
Jose, S. (2022) Xcel Energy and Bloom Energy to Produce Zero-Carbon Hydrogen at Nuclear Facility [Online]. Bloom Energy. Available at: https://www.bloomenergy.com/news/xcel-energy-and-bloom-energy-to-produce-zero-carbon-hydrogen-at-nuclear-facility/
Meeley, B. (2023) Ultra Safe Nuclear, Hyundai Engineering, SK Ecoplant Sign MOU for Clean Hydrogen Production [Online]. Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation. Available at: https://www.usnc.com/ultra-safe-nuclear-hyundai-engineering-sk-ecoplant-sign-mou-for-clean-hydrogen-production/
Office of Nuclear Energy. (2022) 4 Nuclear Power Plants Gearing Up for Clean Hydrogen Production [Online]. Available at: https://www.energy.gov/ne/articles/4-nuclear-power-plants-gearing-clean-hydrogen-production