It’s Hydrogen Day—and yes, that has a lot to do with nuclear

October 8, 2021, 12:01PMNuclear News
(Image: DOE)

If you’re hearing for the first time that October 8 is Hydrogen Day, you might be wondering, “Why October 8?” and “What’s the connection to nuclear?”

ANS Nuclear Newswire has the answers.

National Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Day was established in 2015 on October 8 (10/08) in a nod to hydrogen’s atomic weight: 1.008. And an announcement from the Department of Energy yesterday of a $20 million award for a demonstration of nuclear-powered hydrogen production and storage at Arizona Public Service’s Palo Verde plant leaves no doubt that the DOE—and nuclear utilities—are serious about the economic and technical feasibility and the climate benefits of pairing nuclear power with hydrogen production.

Energy carrier in demand: Molecular hydrogen (H2) can store a lot of energy, which makes it an excellent energy carrier. Hydrogen gas can be burned to generate electricity, is a necessary input to industrial and chemical processes, and can be used to generate electricity in a fuel cell for transportation or to provide power to the grid when needed.

While hydrogen accounts for about 75 percent of the matter in the universe, it isn’t easy to make, store, and use. Nearly all hydrogen produced today comes from steam methane reforming using natural gas, a process that produces large quantities of carbon dioxide, posing a climate hazard and a carbon capture challenge. But steam methane reforming isn’t the only option for making hydrogen. Several methods of electrolysis—splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen gases—can produce “green” hydrogen using water, heat, and electricity. That electricity might come from renewable sources or from nuclear power plants that provide steam along with electricity, increasing the efficiency of the process.

That’s why nuclear-produced hydrogen is a significant part of the DOE’s Hydrogen Shot, a goal announced on June 7 to lower the price of hydrogen from clean sources by 80 percent, to $1 per kilogram, within the decade. Because 1 kilogram of hydrogen has an energy content equivalent to 1 gallon of gasoline, hitting that price point would go a long way toward decarbonizing U.S. energy systems beyond the electric grid.

Pilots are happening now: Through planned pilot projects at operating nuclear power plants in Ohio, Minnesota, and New York—and now Arizona—and through focused research on the technical and economic aspects of hydrogen production guided by researchers at Idaho National Laboratory in partnership with other national laboratories, universities, and companies across the country, data is being collected that could help integrate hydrogen production at nuclear power plants on a larger scale. The pilot projects may pave the way for the licensing of hydrogen production at nuclear power plants and provide another way for plants to turn a profit when local demand or a renewable energy surplus makes sending electricity to the grid less profitable.

Learn more: Did you know that NASA has used fuel cells to provide power and water on space shuttles? Do you know how many thousands of hydrogen fuel cell cars are on the road around the world today? Test your “H2IQ” by taking the hydrogen and fuel cell quiz, then visit “Increase Your H2IQ” to learn more.

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