By 2035, the demand for clean hydrogen will exceed millions of tons. However, hydrogen generation from low-carbon energy sources must contribute to profound carbon reduction. Hydrogen needs to be produced via nuclear or renewable energy sources to reduce carbon emissions considerably.
Image Credit: 3rdtimeluckystudio/Shutterstock.com
Significance of Green Hydrogen Production
The future energy system will rely heavily on replacing fuel and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions to safeguard the environment. Hydrogen has the potential to be an essential source of energy that is both sustainable and beneficial to the environment.
Hydrogen is anticipated to be a game changer in the battle against climate change, capable of supporting the clean energy transition in a variety of ways, including direct use as a fuel, chemical feedstock, or in the form of synthetic fuels, as well as the ability to incorporate with hybrid energy systems and renewable energy sources.
Challenges in Green Hydrogen Production
The primary challenge in green hydrogen production is to identify efficient techniques to encourage the generation of "clean" hydrogen without causing greenhouse gas emissions, given that most hydrogen is currently derived from fossil fuels.
Fossil fuels continue to account for most of the produced hydrogen since the energy consumption in the process is lower than that needed by water electrolysis and its generation cost is also lower. However, producing hydrogen from fossil fuels is not environmentally friendly since it emits many greenhouse gases as a by-product.
An abundant supply of energy is nuclear energy. Nuclear fuel is less expensive than fossil-based energy because of its relative accessibility and is a clean and ecologically friendly energy source. Its use generates a negligible amount of waste and almost no harmful emissions.
The Role of Nuclear Power in Green Hydrogen Production
Nuclear energy is the second largest source of low-carbon energy utilized to generate electricity today, following hydropower. Nuclear reactors operate with nearly zero emissions of greenhouse gases.
Interest in the nuclear production of hydrogen is rising globally due to nuclear energy's ability to provide power and heat for hydrogen production in a feasible, low-carbon, and economical manner. More than 200,000 tons of hydrogen could be produced yearly by a single 1000 MW nuclear reactor. There are several reasons why nuclear energy should be considered and supported in hydrogen initiatives, especially by nations that already have nuclear facilities.
Nuclear energy is ideally situated for generating zero-carbon hydrogen, a novel energy carrier with many uses, as it operates at extremely high capacity factors. The following are the improvements that nuclear energy has made to its role in producing green hydrogen during the last 10 to 20 years:
- Cold electrolysis of water utilizing off-peak capacity (requires 50–55 kWh/kg).
- Low-temperature steam electrolysis using nuclear reactor heat and energy.
- High-temperature thermochemical production utilizing nuclear heat.
- High-temperature steam electrolysis using nuclear heat and electricity.
Benefits of Nuclear Energy in Green Hydrogen Production
Nuclear energy is a viable energy source to efficiently manufacture low-carbon hydrogen. Nuclear reactors running over an extended period could demonstrate the lowest output costs. In most regions of the world, the price of hydrogen produced by new nuclear reactors is comparable to that produced by variable renewable energy sources (solar and wind).
Industrial hubs receive cheap energy and hydrogen from nuclear sources. Its power density and stability enable the transportation of a massive, continuous supply of low-carbon hydrogen and heat. Nuclear offers significant potential to reduce the infrastructure cost needed to distribute hydrogen and use co-location with otherwise challenging industrial operations.
Current Nuclear Energy Programs for Green Hydrogen Production
According to the Hydrogen Council, 359 large-scale nuclear hydrogen projects are declared across the value chain, with more than 80% of them being situated in Europe, Asia, and Australia. Over 30 nations also have hydrogen roadmaps. Europe is at the forefront of hydrogen development, accounting for more than 50% of declared projects and expected expenditures of $130 billion. More than 30 nations have explicit nuclear hydrogen programs. Here are a few of these projects:
- Nine Mile Point Nuclear Power Station
The facility will produce clean hydrogen fueled by nuclear energy for the first time in the United States and utilize it to cool the plant. In February 2023, Constellation started producing hydrogen. The utility and NYSERDA collaborated on a different project to power a fuel cell at the plant, and in 2025, they will start supplying more electricity to the grid.
- Davis–Besse Nuclear Power Station
At the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station, Energy Harbor attempts to demonstrate a low-temperature electrolysis technology. The project aims to demonstrate the economic advantages and technological viability of producing clean hydrogen, which might open up potential for future widespread commercialization. By 2023, the single-unit reactor is anticipated to produce pure hydrogen. Potential applications include the sale of gasoline for the community's bus fleet and local manufacturing and transportation services.
- Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant
At the Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant, Bloom Energy and Xcel Energy are collaborating on a revolutionary effort to test high-temperature electrolysis. This method will be scaled up using the information gathered during the demonstration. Early 2024 is when hydrogen manufacturing is anticipated to start.
- The Energy Systems Catapult
The UK's non-profit Energy Systems Catapult illustrates the whole energy system and now offers the possibility of using innovative nuclear technology to produce green hydrogen. This provides a look at the energy mix that would be least expensive and produce net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The results show that advanced nuclear might contribute to hydrogen generation alongside other technologies.
Although electrolysis of water or steam can now produce nuclear hydrogen, the economics still need to be addressed. Hydrogen produced by nuclear power must be seriously considered if the world is serious about establishing a sizable clean hydrogen economy. It is the only low-carbon alternative with a high capacity factor and is deployable on a wide scale.
Read More: Will Hydrogen Satisfy Enough Global Energy Demand by 2050?
References and Further Reading
Constantin, A. (2023). Nuclear hydrogen projects to support clean energy transition: Updates on international initiatives and IAEA activities. International Journal of Hydrogen Energy. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0360319923049200
Soja, R. J., Gusau, M. B., Ismaila, U., & Garba, N. N. (2023). Comparative analysis of the associated cost of nuclear hydrogen production using IAEA hydrogen cost estimation program. International Journal of Hydrogen Energy. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0360319923012041
Rehm, T. E. (2023). Advanced nuclear energy: the safest and most renewable clean energy. Current Opinion in Chemical Engineering, 39, 100878. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S2211339822000880