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Review of the Potential of Nuclear Hydrogen for Addressing Energy Security and Climate Change

James E. O'Brien

Nuclear Technology / Volume 178 / Number 1 / April 2012 / Pages 55-65

Technical Paper / Safety and Technology of Nuclear Hydrogen Production, Control, and Management / Nuclear Hydrogen Production

Nuclear energy has the potential to exert a major positive impact on energy security and climate change by coupling it to the transportation sector, primarily through hydrogen production. In the short term, this coupling will provide carbon-free hydrogen for upgrading increasingly lower-quality petroleum resources such as oil sands, offsetting carbon emissions associated with steam methane reforming. In the intermediate term, nuclear hydrogen will be needed for large-scale production of infrastructure-compatible synthetic liquid fuels. In the long term, there is great potential for the use of hydrogen as a direct vehicle fuel, most likely in the form of light-duty pluggable hybrid hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (HFCVs). This paper presents a review of the potential benefits of large-scale nuclear hydrogen production for energy security (i.e., displacing imported petroleum) and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Life-cycle benefits of nuclear energy in this context are presented, with reference to recent major publications on this topic. The status of U.S. and international nuclear hydrogen research programs is discussed. Industry progress toward consumer-grade HFCVs is also examined.

 
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