Here’s why the nuclear industry is making eyes at clean hydrogen

Hydrogen Sector 01.11.23
Written by: HYCAP

The U.S. Department of Energy thinks a “marriage” between nuclear energy and clean hydrogen has potential, but for now they are still checking each other out from opposite sides of the dancefloor.

It is a union that to many seems written in the stars. The nuclear industry needs a way to boost its profitability and sees making hydrogen as an attractive option, while the hydrogen sector would like to power its electrolysers via means other than just renewables.

Green hydrogen is made by splitting water with electrolysers powered by renewable energy. When the renewable power is replaced by nuclear, it is called pink hydrogen, but both methods produce clean hydrogen with minimal carbon dioxide emissions.

While renewables are intermittent, producing energy only when the sun shines or the wind blows, nuclear is the opposite; it produces energy constantly as turning nuclear reactors off and on again is expensive.


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That means nuclear power stations are often selling electricity into a market when they would rather not, because demand and prices are low, but they don’t have any choice. In some cases, they have tried to mitigate this with pumped hydro, whereby excess electricity is used to push water up hill, releasing it to generate power when prices are higher.

Raghav Khanna, an associate professor of power systems at the University of Toledo, in Ohio, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory, have created a machine-learning model to study the profitability of combined nuclear and hydrogen energy-generation systems, and found a 27% increase in revenue over a period of 120 days.

The U.S. Department of Energy thinks a “marriage” between nuclear energy and clean hydrogen has great potential, but for now they are still checking each other out from opposite sides of the dancefloor.

The heat created by nuclear reactors can reduce the cost of hydrogen production, as it can be fed into solid-oxide steam electrolysers, which are more efficient than conventional ones.

With the UK investing in a new fleet of nuclear reactors, including Hinkley Point C, which is expected to come online in 2028, the potential for bringing nuclear and hydrogen together are significant.

The UK’s Department for Energy Security and Net Zero is already exploring this potential with a £6.1 million grant to Bay Hydrogen Hub, a consortium made up of EDF, Hanson, National Nuclear Laboratory and Vulcan Burners, for decarbonising asphalt and cement production in Lancashire.

A solid oxide electrolyser will be built at Heysham 2 Power Station with the hydrogen then transported to Hanson’s Criggion asphalt plant in North Wales where it will fuel the production of cement and asphalt, replacing a mix of fossil fuels.

Success for the project would represent a good early date for the two technologies. If chemistry develops, some kind of marriage could be on the cards and investment in nuclear-hydrogen technology could really pick up pace.

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